THE DANGERS OF ILLITERACY…. OK, so most Americans have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to the deficit. How are they when it comes to understanding stimulus efforts? Arguably, on this, they’re even worse.

Rasmussen has a new poll showing a 51% majority believes cancelling the economic recovery efforts would “create more jobs.” Derek Thompson, flabbergasted, characterized these beliefs as “insane.”

It’s one thing to say that canceling the rest of the stimulus money would help our deficit. That’s arguable, even if I think it’s dead wrong, since the best way to help our deficit is to put people back to work when demand is nonexistent so that they (1) receive taxable income and (2) spend that taxable income on products to help other people’s taxable income. […]

The idea that canceling the stimulus would create more jobs implies that passing the stimulus has actually killed more jobs than it’s created, which is bonkers. Let’s say you don’t want to consider infrastructure spending or green technology spending or a single job that might have been created in the private sector. If nothing else, the tens of billions we’ve sent to state budgets have, without question, saved hundreds of thousands of jobs, like teachers, that are supported by state taxes. It’s just a very basic fact.

So this is a crazy statistic, but I think it’s important to ask why Americans think the stimulus is actually hurting job-creation.

It’s a good question, and your guess is as good as mine. Chances are, it’s not just one thing. Part of the confusion is likely the result of an electorate that doesn’t quite understand the basics, and is therefore easily misled by the same people who got us in this mess. Part of it comes from a media that hasn’t made much of an effort to explain the basics. And part of the problem has to be politicians — one party believes Hoover was right about the Great Depression, and the other party is afraid to talk about how government spending and intervention prevented a wholesale economic collapse.

Regardless of the cause, the consequences of widespread confusion and ignorance can be, and may turn out to be, devastating. If most Americans believe government spending undermines job creation, and are convinced that short-term deficit reduction is more important than economic growth, they’re more likely to vote for arsonists to put out the fire.

The surest way to make things even worse is to reward those who created the problem in the first place.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.