David Brooks' Trouble With Arithmetic Leads Him Astray Again

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Tuesday, 22 January 2013 07:30

David Brooks would benefit hugely from a remedial course in grade school arithmetic. It might keep him from saying silly things in his NYT columns like:

"We are now a mature nation with an aging population. Far from being underinstitutionalized, we are bogged down with a bloated political system, a tangled tax code, a byzantine legal code and a crushing debt."

If he were more acquainted with arithmetic he would be able to go to government publications and discover that far from being "crushing," the interest burden of our debt is near a post-war low. In fact, if we subtracted the $90 billion in interest that is refunded from the Fed to the Treasury the interest burden would be at a post war low.

interest-per-gdp-2013-01

Source: Congressional Budget Office.

Brooks' confusion then causes him to assert:

"Reinvigorating a mature nation means using government to give people the tools to compete, but then opening up a wide field so they do so raucously and creatively. It means spending more here but deregulating more there. It means facing the fact that we do have to choose between the current benefits to seniors and investments in our future, and that to pretend we don’t face that choice, as Obama did, is effectively to sacrifice the future to the past."

In fact there is no reason to make such a choice between meeting obligations to seniors and investing in the future. If we fixed our health care system so that our per person health care costs were in line with those in other wealthy countries we would be looking at long-term budget surpluses, not deficit.

Thanks to Robert Salzberg for calling this one to my attention.