WaPo Headline and Abstract III

Robert Waldmann

I think that something has changed at www.washingtonpost.com, because I am infuriated by many headlines and abstracts of articles. I don’t know if the same headlines appear in the dead trees version.

Today we get

Record-High U.S. Deficit May Dash Obama Goals
Budget gap of $1.4T, while an improvement over worst projections, means less to spend on White House’s ambitious jobs and stimulus packages.

So the news is that the deficit is smaller than predicted, but the headline stresses the fact that it is huge, just as we knew it would be. The phrase “means less to spend” asserts that the size of a stimulus is limited by available funds — that is that they can’t stimulate in a way which adds to the deficit — not that one sholdn’t but that they are limited by a current year budget constraint (an intertemporal budget constraint plus a liquidity constraint). I have difficulty imagining what sort of entity could make such an assertion in the same sentence which notes a $ 1.4T deficit.

Can an actual human with a human brain think that spending by the federal government with a $1.4T deficit is limited by how much it has to spend? I ask for information — my current guess is that the headline and abstracts are being written by a script which takes phrases at random from the latest RNC press release.

If a person is involved, he or she might say that he or she is predicting the political debate — Republicans and conservadems will say that the huge deficit means the federal goverment must tighten its belt (I assume they refer to the beltway as otherwise the phrase makes no sense). They can block bills in the Senate so they will win the debate over further stimulus in the sense of having enough power to block further stimulus (win the debate in the might makes right sense that is).

Therefore The Post employee merely notes that idiotic arguments will determine policy, because there are more than 40 idiots in the Senate. He or she doesn’t make the claims which appear on www.washingtonpost.com, that wouldn’t be proper stenography journalism. Of course the Post is obliged to make in its own voice any idiotic argument against action which is supported by 41 senators, because it is a newspaper dammit and must not contribute to the debate, but only report who has the power to win it (which is almost always the advocate of no further action given the way the Senate works). The fact that the current forecast of the deficit is smaller than previous forecasts can’t be denied, but it is unimportant, because it is inconvenient to obstructionists who have the power to prevent further stimulus and therefore will win the debate (in the sense of successfully filibustering and making sure it would last forever before a vote is called).