...without challenging much of anything. [Link to Beck's videos]
That's really too bad. The peddlers of the fiscal doomsday message have found a lapdog. Beck's interviews reminded me of the way Olberman interviewed Obama, or the way Hannity interviewed Palin. Hard-nosed journalism is supposed to ferret out the truth, but what I'm seeing these days looks more like slow-pitch softball.
Is it possible that Glenn Beck simply does not know the questions he should be asking? If ignorance is the problem, that's good news to me — because ignorance is fixable.
I've written many times here about what's missing from the debate: GDP growth. Without enough of it, doomsday is our destiny; with enough, easy street is possible; somewhere in between is probably more likely. But all we ever hear about is doomsday — and Glenn Beck has bought it, hook, line, and sinker, no questions asked.
So, instead of another lengthy explanation of why doomsday might not be inevitable, I'll simply attempt to spoon feed five yes-no questions for the Glenn Becks in the media to pass along to the doomsday crowd. In my mind's eye, I'm picturing the (highly unlikely) scenario of Glenn Beck asking ex-Comptroller General David Walker to answer each of the following five questions with a simple yes or no, followed by any elaboration he deemed necessary:
Mr. Walker, you talk repeatedly of the $53 trillion shortfall in assets versus liabilities on America's balance sheet. But with regard to our nation's assets, is the following statement still accurate? It's by former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, excerpted from page 8 of the 1998 Financial Report of the US Government, signed by both you and Secretary Rubin:
The assets presented on the Balance Sheet are not a comprehensive list of Federal resources. For example, the U.S. Government's most important financial resource, its ability to tax and regulate commerce, cannot be quantified and is not reflected. [And that's not the only asset left out...]
—Secretary Robert Rubin, 1998 FRUSG
On page 8 of that same report, Secretary Rubin also said this:
The expanding economy [i.e., growing GDP] over the course of the year brought a surge in tax revenue in 1998...
Mr. Walker, do you agree that, as in 1998, a faster-expanding economy would cause future tax receipts to rise faster, even if tax rates remain unchanged?
Mr. Walker, you've said we won't "grow our way out of the problem." But given the overwhelming effect that GDP growth has had on tax receipts in the past, do you honestly think economic growth deserves only a terse dismissal — instead of a more detailed explanation?
Mr. Walker, below is an important chart from page 16 of the 2003 Financial Report of the US Government, signed by you. The chart is important because GDP growth rates drive tax receipts, as Secretary Rubin explained above.
Would you please furnish us with an update of this same chart, extended out 75 years into the future? That would allow us to compare the GDP growth we have experienced in the recent past with growth assumptions you are using in your widely publicized forecasts for the long term future.
Mr. Walker, you projected that we will eventually run our debt/GDP ratio far beyond our post WW2 high of 100+ percent. Would you agree that keeping the ratio of debt to GDP at approximately today's level (64%) would require an economy that grows at the same rate as the debt, but would not require a balanced budget — and would you therefore be willing to define the much ballyhooed term "fiscal responsibility" as "the condition achieved when the debt grows no faster than the economy"?
Try to picture Glenn Beck asking those questions. I know, it's bizarre; but I keep trying to picture it anyway.