The Federal Deficit Is Shrinking Already, But That’s Not Really a Good Thing

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So how’s the federal deficit doing? Last month the Treasury Department figured that the FY2012 deficit would clock in at about $1.1 trillion, or 7 percent of GDP. That’s down considerably from three years ago, when the deficit peaked at a hair over 10 percent of GDP.

Jed Graham, using the three-year change as a benchmark, says this is the biggest peacetime drop in 75 years:

Believe it or not, the federal deficit has fallen faster over the past three years than it has in any such stretch since demobilization from World War II….If U.S. history offers any guide, we are already testing the speed limits of a fiscal consolidation that doesn’t risk backfiring. That’s why the best way to address the fiscal cliff likely is to postpone it.

….Other occasions when the federal deficit contracted by much more than 1 percentage point a year have coincided with recession. Some examples include 1937, 1960 and 1969.

This three-year window feels a little like cherry-picking to me. I’m not sure it has any special value aside from the fact that it happens to give us a comparison with the peak deficit year of 2009, therefore making this year’s decline look especially steep. Still, there’s no question that no matter what window you look at, the deficit is shrinking at a pretty rapid pace, as the chart on the right shows. And Graham is right: this means that the government “already has its foot on the brakes” at a time when our recovery from the Great Recession is still pretty fragile. Braking even harder isn’t a great idea right now.

There’s nothing wrong with negotiating over long-term deficit reduction, but that’s all we should be negotiating over: long-term reduction. Over the next year or two, there’s really no reason we should be shrinking the deficit at all.

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE A POSITIVE STORY—OR TWO?

“Great journalism really does make a difference in this world: it can even save kids.”

That’s what a civil rights lawyer wrote to Julia Lurie, the day after her major investigation into a psychiatric hospital chain that uses foster children as “cash cows” published, letting her know he was using her findings that same day in a hearing to keep a child out of one of the facilities we investigated.

That’s awesome. As is the fact that Julia, who spent a full year reporting this challenging story, promptly heard from a Senate committee that will use her work in their own investigation of Universal Health Services. There’s no doubt her revelations will continue to have a big impact in the months and years to come.

Like another story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact.

This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?

“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.

Wow.

And it is only because Mother Jones is funded primarily by donations from readers that we can mount ambitious, yearlong—or more—investigations like these two stories that are making waves.

About that: It’s unfathomably hard in the news business right now, and we came up about $28,000 short during our recent fall fundraising campaign. We simply have to make that up soon to avoid falling further behind than can be made up for, or needing to somehow trim $1 million from our budget, like happened last year.

If you can, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones—that exists to make a difference, not a profit—with a donation of any amount today. We need more donations than normal to come in from this specific blurb to help close our funding gap before it gets any bigger.

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