Fiscal End-Times Cult

Being a student of religious phenomena, I’m pretty familiar with the impulse to speculate about–and use as an ideological weapon–End Times calculations. So Paul Krugman’s comparison of “fiscal cliff” doomsayers to the popularizers of alleged Mayan “doomsday” predictions sure makes sense to me:

Regular readers know that I and other economists argued from the beginning that these dire warnings of fiscal catastrophe were all wrong, that budget deficits won’t cause soaring interest rates as long as the economy is depressed — and that the biggest risk to the economy is that we might try to slash the deficit too soon. And surely that point of view has been strongly validated by events.

The key thing we need to understand, however, is that the prophets of fiscal disaster, no matter how respectable they may seem, are at this point effectively members of a doomsday cult. They are emotionally and professionally committed to the belief that fiscal crisis lurks just around the corner, and they will hold to their belief no matter how many corners we turn without encountering that crisis.

It really is helpful to begin thinking of fiscal-cliff doomsayers as no more or less intelligent than folks who pour over their Scofield Reference Bibles trying to figure out when the divine hammer will be brought down on an unrighteous world. Such predictions have only such value as can be derived from the credibility of the oracles, and Krugman’s right: after a while we should just stop listening to them in awe and fear.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.