The media rejects deficit hawkery

“The good news is that mainstream journalism has been made more empathetic, and less tolerant of hypocrisy, by the Trump era.”

In 2021, as a rightfully robust debate comes into full form about what Congress and President-elect Joe Biden should pursue and prioritize in this crisis, one species of bad-faith political argument will face more skepticism from the press than it ever has: deficit hawkery.

Drawing on specious imagery of responsible private-sector bookkeeping, and relying on outdated notions of how to organize the public finances of the nation in control of the world’s reserve currency, deficit hawks in both major parties have led the country into a generational rut of zealously guarding against the threat of inflation at the expense of gains in the labor market for working and middle-class people. This — as many hawks who have now, at least temporarily, been converted into doves by this crisis will now tell you — is a fact.

In 2020, the historic increases in the federal budget deficit caused by the coronavirus economic shock and the initial multi-trillion-dollar federal response to it initially stirred calls for caution among congressional Republicans about spending too much in a follow-up relief bill. Almost to a person, these were politicians that expressed few qualms about the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which cost well over a trillion dollars and financed by deficits, not offsetting so-called “pay-fors” in the legislation. Yet with business activity slowing as the pandemic resurges, a few centrist senators have changed their tune and supported nearly another trillion in relief.

Perhaps the most remarkable feat of the Republican Party in the policy discourse of modern American politics has been their ability to convince both a large swath of voters and a significant swath of the mainstream press that they are fiscal conservatives — despite the fact that the party hasn’t had a president preside over a balanced budget since Dwight Eisenhower.

Taking the brazenly disingenuous bait of austerity politics for years was maybe the deepest failure of the mainstream press throughout the 2010s. As my new colleague, Times columnist Ezra Klein, explained back in 2013, deficit reduction boosterism was inexplicably one realm for which “the rules for reportorial neutrality don’t apply” and journalists “are permitted to openly cheer a particular set of highly controversial policy solutions.”

This came about in part because the embrace of austerity was remarkably widespread within the establishment. Democrats from Barack Obama to Nancy Pelosi supported failed grand bargains and more modest successful deals to decrease annual deficits through cutting back on social spending. And Obama did lower the deficit as a share of G.D.P. throughout his time in office — even in the long wake of the Great Recession, when the unemployment rate was much higher than it even is now mid-pandemic.

However, to say that the press was simply led astray by the groupthink of elite partisan insiders isn’t an excuse as much as it’s a damning indictment of the profession’s upper echelons. It views its work as a public service, but it failed the public. The prestige press, in hindsight, is just as responsible for the sluggish, unequal recovery that came about as a result of our leading a national discourse that quickly dispensed with asking how to help the vast majority of people still struggling in favor of centrist posturing that made many feel sober, balanced, and exacting.

The good news is that mainstream journalism has been made more empathetic, and less tolerant of hypocrisy, by the Trump era. A swath of Wall Street has become sympathetic to Modern Monetary Theory. And the Biden team economic team is led by a mix of labor-minded experts who are appropriately dovish about public finance and partisan operatives like Neera Tanden who previously advocated austere cuts to social programs but have since changed their tune to be in sync with the party’s shifting center.

And, crucially, some leaders of the former elite policy consensus on deficit reduction have softened their stance to a remarkable degree. In their new paper, “A Reconsideration of Fiscal Policy in the Era of Low-Interest Rates,” Jason Furman, a chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under Mr. Obama, and Lawrence Summers, another longtime high-ranking Democratic policy guru, conclude that the American government can afford “deficit-financed” large-scale emergency programs and longer-term investments, at least in the near term, because of historically low borrowing costs.

In part because men like these carry so much clout in Washington and New York, don’t be surprised if suddenly the outlines of their reconsideration are taken as a given on network and cable news as well as in the framing of major news stories.

Talmon Joseph Smith is a staff editor in The New York Times’ Opinion section.

In 2021, as a rightfully robust debate comes into full form about what Congress and President-elect Joe Biden should pursue and prioritize in this crisis, one species of bad-faith political argument will face more skepticism from the press than it ever has: deficit hawkery.

Drawing on specious imagery of responsible private-sector bookkeeping, and relying on outdated notions of how to organize the public finances of the nation in control of the world’s reserve currency, deficit hawks in both major parties have led the country into a generational rut of zealously guarding against the threat of inflation at the expense of gains in the labor market for working and middle-class people. This — as many hawks who have now, at least temporarily, been converted into doves by this crisis will now tell you — is a fact.

In 2020, the historic increases in the federal budget deficit caused by the coronavirus economic shock and the initial multi-trillion-dollar federal response to it initially stirred calls for caution among congressional Republicans about spending too much in a follow-up relief bill. Almost to a person, these were politicians that expressed few qualms about the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which cost well over a trillion dollars and financed by deficits, not offsetting so-called “pay-fors” in the legislation. Yet with business activity slowing as the pandemic resurges, a few centrist senators have changed their tune and supported nearly another trillion in relief.

Perhaps the most remarkable feat of the Republican Party in the policy discourse of modern American politics has been their ability to convince both a large swath of voters and a significant swath of the mainstream press that they are fiscal conservatives — despite the fact that the party hasn’t had a president preside over a balanced budget since Dwight Eisenhower.

Taking the brazenly disingenuous bait of austerity politics for years was maybe the deepest failure of the mainstream press throughout the 2010s. As my new colleague, Times columnist Ezra Klein, explained back in 2013, deficit reduction boosterism was inexplicably one realm for which “the rules for reportorial neutrality don’t apply” and journalists “are permitted to openly cheer a particular set of highly controversial policy solutions.”

This came about in part because the embrace of austerity was remarkably widespread within the establishment. Democrats from Barack Obama to Nancy Pelosi supported failed grand bargains and more modest successful deals to decrease annual deficits through cutting back on social spending. And Obama did lower the deficit as a share of G.D.P. throughout his time in office — even in the long wake of the Great Recession, when the unemployment rate was much higher than it even is now mid-pandemic.

However, to say that the press was simply led astray by the groupthink of elite partisan insiders isn’t an excuse as much as it’s a damning indictment of the profession’s upper echelons. It views its work as a public service, but it failed the public. The prestige press, in hindsight, is just as responsible for the sluggish, unequal recovery that came about as a result of our leading a national discourse that quickly dispensed with asking how to help the vast majority of people still struggling in favor of centrist posturing that made many feel sober, balanced, and exacting.

The good news is that mainstream journalism has been made more empathetic, and less tolerant of hypocrisy, by the Trump era. A swath of Wall Street has become sympathetic to Modern Monetary Theory. And the Biden team economic team is led by a mix of labor-minded experts who are appropriately dovish about public finance and partisan operatives like Neera Tanden who previously advocated austere cuts to social programs but have since changed their tune to be in sync with the party’s shifting center.

And, crucially, some leaders of the former elite policy consensus on deficit reduction have softened their stance to a remarkable degree. In their new paper, “A Reconsideration of Fiscal Policy in the Era of Low-Interest Rates,” Jason Furman, a chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under Mr. Obama, and Lawrence Summers, another longtime high-ranking Democratic policy guru, conclude that the American government can afford “deficit-financed” large-scale emergency programs and longer-term investments, at least in the near term, because of historically low borrowing costs.

In part because men like these carry so much clout in Washington and New York, don’t be surprised if suddenly the outlines of their reconsideration are taken as a given on network and cable news as well as in the framing of major news stories.

Talmon Joseph Smith is a staff editor in The New York Times’ Opinion section.

Richard J. Tofel   Less on politics, more on how government works (or doesn’t)

Raney Aronson-Rath   To get past information divides, we need to understand them first

Mike Ananny   Toward better tech journalism

Danielle C. Belton   A decimated media rededicates itself to truth

Jeremy Gilbert   Human-centered journalism

Gabe Schneider   Another year of empty promises on diversity

Alfred Hermida and Oscar Westlund   The virus ups data journalism’s game

Marcus Mabry   News orgs adapt to a post-Trump world (with Trump still in it)

Julia Angwin   Show your (computational) work

Marie Shanahan   Journalism schools stop perpetuating the status quo

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   The download, podcasting’s metric king, gets dethroned

Victor Pickard   The commercial era for local journalism is over

Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli   Defund the crime beat

Catalina Albeanu   Publish less, listen more

Bill Adair   The future of fact-checking is all about structured data

Hadjar Benmiloud   Get representative, or die trying

Aaron Foley   Diversity gains haven’t shown up in local news

Whitney Phillips   Facts are an insufficient response to falsehoods

Matt Skibinski   Misinformation won’t stop unless we stop it

Jesse Holcomb   Genre erosion in nonprofit journalism

Natalie Meade   Journalism enters rehab

Christoph Mergerson   Black Americans will demand more from journalism

Jim Friedlich   A newspaper renaissance reached by stopping the presses

John Saroff   Covid sparks the growth of independent local news sites

Zainab Khan   From understanding to feeling

Cindy Royal   J-school grads maintain their optimism and adaptability

Ryan Kellett   The bundle gets bundled

Heidi Tworek   A year of news mocktails

Masuma Ahuja   We’ll remember how interconnected our world is

Renée Kaplan   Falling in love with your subscription

José Zamora   Walking the talk on diversity

Gonzalo del Peon   Collaborations expand from newsrooms to the business side

Brian Moritz   The year sports journalism changes for good

Francesca Tripodi   Don’t expect breaking up Google and Facebook to solve our information woes

Jody Brannon   People won’t renew

Andrew Ramsammy   Stop being polite and start getting real

John Davidow   Reflect and repent

Anthony Nadler   Journalism struggles to find a new model of legitimacy

Joanne McNeil   Newsrooms push back against Ivy League cronyism

Anna Nirmala   Local news orgs grasp the urgency of community roots

Tamar Charney   Public radio has a midlife crisis

Ben Collins   We need to learn how to talk to (and about) accidental conspiracists

Mark Stenberg   The rise of the journalist-influencer

Jennifer Brandel   A sneak peak at power mapping, 2073’s top innovation

Loretta Chao   Open up the profession

Cory Bergman   The year after a thousand earthquakes

Beena Raghavendran   Journalism gets fused with art

Kevin D. Grant   Parachute journalism goes away for good

David Skok   A pandemic-prompted wave of consolidation

Meredith D. Clark   The year journalism starts paying reparations

Robert Hernandez   Data and shame

Ernie Smith   Entrepreneurship on rails

Tanya Cordrey   Declining trust forces publishers to claim (or disclaim) values

Cory Haik   Be essential

Nisha Chittal   The year we stop pivoting

Shaydanay Urbani and Nancy Watzman   Local collaboration is key to slowing misinformation

Kerri Hoffman   Protecting podcasting’s open ecosystem

Jessica Clark   News becomes plural

Ståle Grut   Network analysis enters the journalism toolbox

Celeste Headlee   The rise of radical newsroom transparency

Parker Molloy   The press will risk elevating a Shadow President Trump

Rishad Patel   From direct-to-consumer to direct-to-believers

Janet Haven and Sam Hinds   Is this an AI newsroom?

Imaeyen Ibanga   Journalism gets unmasked

Sue Cross   A global consensus around the kind of news we need to save

Alicia Bell and Simon Galperin   Media reparations now

Annie Rudd   Newsrooms grow less comfortable with the “view from above”

Nicholas Jackson   Blogging is back, but better

Megan McCarthy   Readers embrace a low-information diet

Pia Frey   Building growth through tastemakers and their communities

Tim Carmody   Spotify will make big waves in video

Basile Simon   Graphics, unite

Matt DeRienzo   Citizen truth brigades steer us back toward reality

Sarah Marshall   The year audiences need extra cheer

Edward Roussel   Tech companies get aggressive in local

María Sánchez Díez   Traffic will plummet — and it’ll be ok

Garance Franke-Ruta   Rebundling content, rebuilding connections

Cherian George   Enter the lamb warriors

Pablo Boczkowski   Audiences have revolted. Will newsrooms adapt?

Rick Berke   Virtual events are here to stay

Jonas Kaiser   Toward a wehrhafte journalism

Jer Thorp   Fewer pixels, more cardboard

Jennifer Choi   What have we done for you lately?

Francesco Zaffarano   The year we ask the audience what it needs

Colleen Shalby   The definition of good journalism shifts

Chicas Poderosas   More voices mean better information

Amara Aguilar   Journalism schools emphasize listening

Tshepo Tshabalala   Go niche

Zizi Papacharissi   The year we rebuild the infrastructure of truth

John Ketchum   More journalists of color become newsroom founders

Kristen Muller   Engaged journalism scales

Astead W. Herndon   The Trump-sized window of the media caring about race closes again

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting dodged a bullet in 2020, but 2021 will be harder

Laura E. Davis   The focus turns to newsroom leaders for lasting change

Joshua Darr   Legislatures will tackle the local news crisis

Brandy Zadrozny   Misinformation fatigue sets in

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, a push for pluralism

David Chavern   Local video finally gets momentum

Hossein Derakhshan   Mass personalization of truth

Sarah Stonbely   Videoconferencing brings more geographic diversity

james Wahutu   Journalists still wrongly think the U.S. is different

Ray Soto   The news gets spatial

Mandy Jenkins   You build trust by helping your readers

Nico Gendron   Ask your readers to help build your products

Nabiha Syed   Newsrooms quit their toxic relationships

Candis Callison   Calling it a crisis isn’t enough (if it ever was)

Charo Henríquez   A new path to leadership

L. Gordon Crovitz   Common law will finally apply to the Internet

Linda Solomon Wood   Canada steps up for journalism

Don Day   Business first, journalism second

Andrew Donohue   The rise of the democracy beat

Taylor Lorenz   Journalists will learn influencing isn’t easy

Mariano Blejman   It’s time to challenge autocompleted journalism

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky and Cassie Haynes   A shift from conversation to action

Kate Myers   My son will join every Zoom call in our industry

Ariane Bernard   Going solo is still only a path for the few

Nikki Usher   Don’t expect an antitrust dividend for the media

Alyssa Zeisler   Holistic medicine for journalism

Rachel Glickhouse   Journalists will be kinder to each other — and to themselves

Stefanie Murray and Anthony Advincula   Expect to see more translations and non-English content

An Xiao Mina   2020 isn’t a black swan — it’s a yellow canary

Chase Davis   The year we look beyond The Story

Delia Cai   Subscriptions start working for the middle

Doris Truong   Indigenous issues get long-overdue mainstream coverage

Errin Haines   Let’s normalize women’s leadership

Mark S. Luckie   Newsrooms and streaming services get cozy

Michael W. Wagner   Fractured democracy, fractured journalism

M. Scott Havens   Traditional pay TV will embrace the disruption

Marissa Evans   Putting community trauma into context

Burt Herman   Journalists build post-Facebook digital communities

Kawandeep Virdee   Goodbye, doomscroll

Sonali Prasad   Making disaster journalism that cuts through the noise

Sam Ford   We’ll find better ways to archive our work

Patrick Butler   Covid-19 reporting has prepared us for cross-border collaboration

Sumi Aggarwal   News literacy programs aren’t child’s play

Rodney Gibbs   Zooming beyond talking heads

Tonya Mosley   True equity means ownership

Ben Werdmuller   The web blooms again

Sara M. Watson   Return of the RSS reader

Nonny de la Pena   News reaches the third dimension

Talmon Joseph Smith   The media rejects deficit hawkery

Ariel Zirulnick   Local newsrooms question their paywalls

John Garrett   A surprisingly good year

Rachel Schallom   The rise of nonprofit journalism continues

Samantha Ragland   The year of journalists taking initiative

C.W. Anderson   Journalism changed under Trump — will it keep changing under Biden?

A.J. Bauer   The year of MAGAcal thinking

Ashton Lattimore   Remote work helps level the playing field in an insular industry

Julia B. Chan and Kim Bui   Millennials are ready to run things

Jacqué Palmer   The rise of the plain-text email newsletter

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   Stop pretending publishers are a united front

Logan Jaffe   History as a reporting tool

Mike Caulfield   2021’s misinformation will look a lot like 2020’s (and 2019’s, and…)

Steve Henn   Has independent podcasting peaked?

Joni Deutsch   Local arts and music make journalism more joyous

Bo Hee Kim   Newsrooms create an intentional and collaborative culture

Benjamin Toff   Beltway reporting gets normal again, for better and for worse