Monday, February 2, 2009

The Big Lie about Deficits

February 1, 2009

The Big Lie theory was enunciated by Adolf Hitler.

The masses, said Hitler, in “the primitive simplicity of their minds..more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie.” We all tell small lies, and people easily recognize them. But real whoppers, frequently repeated – the Holocaust never happened, for instance – often succeed, because people cannot believe that anyone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

Was Hitler right? Consider this whopper: conservatives handle money prudently, while “tax-and-spend liberals” are financially irresponsible. That's the exact opposite of the truth – but this Big Lie has been so often repeated by the right that it's rarely even questioned.

Look, for instance, at the recent interview between Maclean's editor-in-chief, Kenneth Whyte, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Talking about upcoming deficits, Whyte asks, “Do you think it's fair to say that the big-spending liberals of Canada and North America are taking advantage of the political situation to drive through more of their ideological agenda?” And Harper's reply concludes, “That is a significant risk, which is why I think it's important to have a Conservative government managing this kind of program.”

Whyte purports to be a journalist, but he performs like a Conservative shill. His question is drenched in falsehood.

Pierre Trudeau, a big Liberal spender, did leave Canada with a hefty debt. But Mulroney's Conservatives, as Jean Chretien once commented, “took Trudeau's $160 billion federal debt... and 'reduced' it after eight years to $450 billion and climbing.” Mulroney's last annual deficit was $42 billion – higher than even Harper's current proposals. A full 94% of the deficit, Statistics Canada reported, was due to Mulroney's tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals, and to his government's high interest-rate policies.

Slashing ferociously, Chretien's Liberals routed the deficit in their first four years, and ran fat surpluses thereafter. In the US, the “tax-and-spend liberal” Bill Clinton inherited a record $290-billion deficit from Ronald Reagan and George the First. He balanced the books in his second term and bequeathed a $236-billion surplus to George Dubya. By 2009, Dubya – a self-described “fiscal conservative” – was projecting a record deficit of $482 billion, largely due to irresponsible tax cuts and reckless military commitments. And that was even before the meltdowns and bailouts.

In Nova Scotia, the Hamm government inherited an $11-billion debt, much of which derives from the spendthrift Tory regime of John Buchanan. The Tory story contends that Hamm balanced the budget in 2002, and that all subsequent provincial budgets have been in surplus. In addition, an $830-million offshore windfall was applied to the debt. The bottom line, notes Halifax accountant Ian Crowe, is that the debt magically “shrank” from $11 billion to $12.3 billion. Wha --?

I nominate for the Solid Brass Award the newly-minted Tory Senator Stephen Greene, who uses the spectre of deficits to flog Nova Scotia's NDP. At a recent nomination meeting, Green reportedly compared Darryl Dexter to the communist rulers of North Korea and Cuba, and urged Tories to “remember the havoc under NDP Premier Bob Rae in Ontario.”

Ah yes, Bob Rae, the Ogre of Ontario. As Rae took office in 1990, Ontario was already heading into recession and projecting a $700 million deficit. Rae tried to blunt the recession's impact using even larger deficits. He failed. But if recession-fighting deficits were bad policy then, why are the federal Tories embracing them now?

And what about Manitoba's NDP Premier Gary Doer, running ten budget surpluses in a row while cutting taxes and improving social services? Anybody remember the balanced budgets of Allan Blakeney and Roy Romanow in Saskatchewan? And the looting of the Saskatchewan treasury by the Tories under Grant Devine, which sent the deficit to $1.2 billion and landed a dozen Tories in the slammer for fraud?

Canada's greatest socialist, Tommy Douglas, held off implementing medicare for 15 years, until he was sure that Saskatchewan could afford it. Why? You can't build social democracy, Douglas argued, if the bankers can stop you by calling your loans. That's not a problem for right-wing governments – but it gives left-wing governments a lively allergy to deficits.

And anyone who tells you otherwise is spreading a Big Lie.

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