Friday, February 18, 2011

Broke, a critical analysis (chapter 8)

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"I have no idea what I'm doing with the economy...."
~~Glenn Beck
Glenn Beck Show, 11/26/10

This is part VIII of XXI of a detailed analysis of Glenn Beck's newest book, Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth and Treasure, co-written with the help of Kevin Balfe. Keep in mind that it was published on 10/16/11, one month before Beck admitted complete ignorance "with the economy." Chapter 8 is entitled "Reagan, Bush, and Clinton Read My Lips: Massive Increases in Debt." In it Beck talks about "spin" (of the facts) and "lies," but he didn't make mention of poor editing while he spun the history of this period to suit his adoration of Reagan and obvious disdain for Clinton. Starting with the opening quotation:

We don't have a trillion-dollar debt because we haven't taxed enough; we have a trillion-dollar debt because we spend too much.(1)
~~Ronald Reagan, 19821

"19821" got past the proof readers and foreshadows more sloppy scholarship as Beck and Balfe cherry pick facts from 1980 to 2000 to demonstrate how Reagan, who was responsible for nearly tripling the national debt, was a hero to Beck while Clinton was a "liar" for claiming to have generated a budget surplus when he discussed the national public or net debt. President Clinton was spinning the facts(2) and not distinguishing between the public debt and the gross debt (see graph below). The difference between the gross and the public debt Beck/Balfe refer to as "intragovernmental debt." The federal government borrows money from funds that are set aside in the Social Security and other accounts which adds to the total gross debt.

Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth and Treasure
His bank account or his scholarship?

Beck begins the chapter by citing statistics about consumer confidence or lack-thereof during the period of stagnation (inflation with low economic growth) that many Americans felt and pointed out that the lack of consumer confidence in 1980 led to the voters throwing President Carter out of office after one term. It is the only mention of Carter in Broke including the previous chapter about the 1960's and '70's, the time frame Carter was in power. Poor Carter, Beck has no respect for him even though he contributed very little to the national debt. Again, see the debt charts below. Carter, Beck/Balfe conveniently ignore actually reduced the gross debt slightly during his term as president. Cherry picking facts means selecting facts that support your overall theory or thesis (the U.S. is "broke") and ignoring mention of examples that do not reinforce the researcher's predetermined conclusions (progressives make matters worse).

Beck/Balfe attack Clinton as a liar because of his claim that he ran budget surpluses, but  they do a shoddy job explaining the difference between the public debt and the gross debt. The following graphs from Wikipedia shed more light on this than anything in chapters 1 - 8 of Broke.

U.S. debt from 1940 to 2009. Red lines indicate the Debt Held by the Public (public debt) and black lines indicate the gross debt, the difference being that the gross debt includes funds held by the government (e.g. the Social Security Trust Fund). The second chart shows debt as a percentage of U.S.GDP or dollar value of economic production per year. Data from U.S. Budget (Historical Tables) at and other tables listed when you click on the figure. Note that the top panel is deflated to 2009 dollars and not in nominal year dollars.(3)

Clearly the debt, which had been fairly level since WWII and decreasing as a percentage of GDP (second graph), shot up under Ronald Reagan. This was the inevitable consequence of significantly cutting taxes for everyone while massively increasing the Pentagon budget. Beck points out that Reagan was committed to national security. He quotes Reagan saying, "my responsibility is the security of the United States." He didn't point out that the rationale Reagan used to spend billions on the strategic nuclear forces was a supposed "window of vulnerability" that most experts dismissed as nonexistent.(4) It was a lie that Beck/Balfe never mention in this chapter. Instead, they spin the budget consideration of the Reagan era as "If [Reagan] wouldn't sign the Democrats' domestic spending bills, they wouldn't send him defense spending bills that met his standards. It was, in essence, a domestic version of mutually assured destruction."(5) "Mutually assured destruction" is how Beck spins what most people call compromise in the parlance of democratic discourse.

President Reagan's desire to move beyond nuclear, strategic mutually assured destruction and achieve over-all military superiority is why the Reagan Administration made up the lie about a window of vulnerability. In an argument about debt and government spending, Beck/Balfe omitted that the biggest lie of the Reagan era. Again, cherry picking history omits the ideologically inconvenient details. One could argue that the expensive build-up brought about the end of the Cold War, but it was Reagan's proposed, space-based Strategic Defense Initiative that mostly unnerved the Soviets. The rest of the increases in defense spending were a complete waste in hindsight. Whether Reagan's defense strategy worked and was worth the increased military spending or not does not get a mention in Beck/Balfe's on their "Reaganonics Report Card" or anywhere in the chapter. For Glenn Beck, Reagan could do no wrong. Given Reagan's progressive record, Reagan should fit right in with Nixon's progressivism in Beck's view...if Beck were scientific and analytical instead of ideological and propaganda oriented. After all, Reagan:

  • Called for a world without nuclear weapons
  • Supported federal handgun control
  • Signed into law the largest tax increase in history at that time
  • Raised taxes on gasoline
  • Raised corporate taxes by hundreds of billions of dollars
  • Bailed out and expanded Social Security with a big tax increase
  • Nearly tripled the national debt
  • Added ten's of thousands of people to the federal payroll
  • Added a new cabinet agency
  • Grew the size of the government and its budget
  • Signed a bill that gave amnesty to undocumented immigrants

cherry picker of history

Beck/Balfe show a sidebar that makes an interesting point. As reported then by the N. Y. Times, "By skillfully trading their votes for things non-peanut farmers do care about, the congressmen for the peanut farmers were able to save their program. There are dozens of stories like this one. The result is that [budget director David] Stockman was unable to cut the goodies of anyone except those least able to organize and protect themselves: the very poor."(6) Beck/Balfe leave it there. No mention of poor people's fate or whether Beck's cherished notion that "charity" can step in to replace government support for the poor was made. Beck had bigger fish to fry. This section of the chapter is entitled "In Defense of Defense" after all. Beck/Balfe do note that Reagan "once wrote in his diary that 'the press is trying to paint me as now trying to undo the New Deal. I reminded them that I voted for FDR four times. I'm trying to undo the 'Great Society.' " Everything that Beck as said about the New Deal suggests that compared to Glenn Beck, Ronald Reagan was a loony progressive.

Next, Chapter 9: "W. and O."

Before more people start swallowing Beck's deceitful "history, "
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1) Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Truth, Truth and Treasure by Glenn Beck and Kevin Balfe, Mercury Radio Arts, New York, 2010, p. 92
5) Broke, p. 99
6) ibid, p. 98