Mega-Number Confusion

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

. . . and now back to our regularly-scheduled coverage of depressing news from the current economic crisis. The latest development is the Congressional Budget Office’s report, released yesterday, maintaining that the US Government actually faces budget deficits and total indebtedness amounting to even higher unbelievably-large numbers than the unbelievably-large numbers presented under President Obama’s budget proposals.

The respected German daily Die Welt promptly picked up on this news to come out with its own article: Congress expects highest deficit of all time. What we should look at first here is the German word for “deficit” itself, used in that headline: Fehlbetrag, derived from the verb fehlen, “to err, sin, blunder” – so a “blunder-amount,” if you will. That pretty much sets the tone, right there; even before the reader’s eye gets to the inserted photo of an earnest President Obama – i.e. while it is still reading the lede – it gets assaulted not only by enormous numbers ($1.8 trillion/€1.3 trillion deficit for 2009, $9.3 trillion debt by 2019) but also by the accompanying loaded descriptions (“record total,” “without precedent,” “a debt-mountain”). Then the remainder of the relatively short piece fills in the remaining horrific details, like that such deficits would amount to over 4% of US GDP – “a value that experts term untenable.” US Budget Director Peter Orszag is quoted as conceding that a 5% deficit (getting close!) would truly be unbearable, even as he also maintains that the CBO’s estimates are unduly more pessimistic than the administration’s proposals. (more…)

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