Cleaning Michael Gerson's Clock

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Friday, 01 March 2013 04:43

Michael Gerson is upset that Democrats didn't want to have a debt clock shown at a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee. He huffs:

"numbers, it turns out, have an offensive ideological bias."

I'm sympathetic. Right alongside the debt clock we could have the lost output clock. If we use the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) measure of potential GDP, this would be rising at the rate of about $3 billion a day or $1 trillion a year. If we used CBO's 2008 economic projections as the basis for measuring lost output, then the clock would be rising at a rate of more than $5 billion a day, more than $1.6 trillion a year. This of course is a huge understatement since it doesn't pick up costs like alcoholism, suicides, and family break-ups that are indirect outcomes of unemployment. 

Presumably Gerson supports having this lost output clock, right? After all, numbers can't have an ideological bias.

Gerson's real complaint is that we haven't solved problems that may occur in the decade of the 2020s, if it turns out that health care costs are still out of control. If health care costs are under control (as recent data suggest may be the case), then these problems will not exist. Of course the answer to out of control health care costs is to fix the health care system, not run around yelling about budget deficits.

Maybe we can give Gerson a clock measuring the number of ants that have crossed national boundaries anywhere in the world. It wouldn't really have much to do with anything, but then neither does his beloved debt clock.