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March 27, 2014

Yesterday, a new one-and-a-half-minute economics video from Ezra Klein's newly formed Vox Media hit the internet. In it, Vox Executive Editor Matt Yglesias explained why the current level of the national debt is neither dangerous nor worrying:

He concludes that "debt just isn't a problem right now," because inflation is currently near historic-lows.

The video stirred up some pretty angry responses from people who think that debt is a problem right now. Red State's Erick Erickson claims some of the video is incorrect and calls Yglesias a liar who is spreading "left-wing propaganda."

Erickson contends that: "[Yglesias] tries to explain the National Debt and out of the gate begins with a lie. He claims the national debt is $5 trillion less than the U.S. Treasury says it is."

But Yglesias is pretty clear that he's excluding debt owed from one arm of the government to another, and only including federal debt held by the public. That is completely rational. After all, money the government owes to itself is simply money moved from one side of the government balance sheet to the other. There's nothing dishonest or disingenuous about citing the lower figure that only includes debt held by the public, especially given that Yglesias was clear about this.

Erickson then contends that: "[Yglesias] uses deficit and debt interchangeably."

But the debt is just the sum of the deficit over many years. So there's nothing wrong with treating them as two manifestations of the same thing so long as you understand that one is an annual figure and the other is the total. Yglesias' point is that the reason to worry about deficits is when they lead to elevated inflation and interest rates, something which we are not currently experiencing. This bases the assessment of debt and deficits around the real world consequences of debt and deficits, instead of hand-wringing over the size of the number, which seems to be what Erickson would rather have us do.

Erickson's next point is that: "[Yglesias] claims the U.S. government can never run out of money."

This, of course, is true. The U.S. government is a monetary sovereign that controls its own state-backed fiat money. Does Erickson think this is untrue? Does he think that the U.S. government can run out of paper and electronic dollars? Does Erickson think that the U.S. is back on the gold standard and therefore can run out of money?

Erickson concludes: "This isn't education. It is not explaining. It is left-wing propaganda. It is also sponsored by General Electric. Why is General Electric sponsoring left-wing propaganda?"

Now, to be fair, I'm not sure Yglesias' video will change many minds. It crams in a baffling quantity of information into a relatively short period. Viewers might on first viewing find it more confusing than enlightening, especially given that the mainstream narrative of the terribleness of government debt and deficits has become so deeply ingrained as "common knowledge."

But everything in the video is technically correct. At the very least it has succeeded in sparking a public debate on the issue of the national debt. And it is very definitely not left-wing propaganda, no matter how much Erick Erickson and other debt fearmongers would like it to be. John Aziz

4:10 p.m. ET
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An Indiana lawmaker is refusing to back civil rights protections for gays and lesbians because there are no similar laws protecting "fat white people." State Rep. Woody Burton called homosexuality "a behavioral thing," like overeating, and argued, "If I pass a law that says transgenders and homosexuals are covered under the civil rights laws, does it say anywhere that fat white people are covered?" The Week Staff

3:41 p.m. ET
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Twitter revealed Friday that it has deleted 125,000 accounts threatening or promoting terrorism since mid-2015, CNBC reports. The Brookings Institution estimated last year that there were at least 46,000 such accounts in existence; Twitter's numbers indicate that ISIS and other terrorist groups have either upped their presence on social media, or Twitter has become better at targeting terrorist accounts.

Spam-fighting technology flags posts by potential terrorists, which are then reviewed by humans, The Associated Press reports. Prior to Friday, Twitter had not revealed the scale to which terrorists were active on Twitter. Jeva Lange

3:32 p.m. ET
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At the price it sells for, this little chocolate ball "better cure PMS, heartbreak, and file our income taxes," said Dominique Haikel at E! Online. For years now, La Madeline au Truffle ($250) from Connecticut-based chocolatier Fritz Knipschildt has reigned as the most extravagant confection in the world. Each one is made to order to get the most of its seven-day shelf life. Dark chocolate dusted in cocoa powder encases a rare mushroom — a Périgord truffle — that's been smothered in a chocolate ganache infused with truffle oil. The whole thing weighs just 1.9 oz, but comes resting on a bed of sugar pearls in a pretty silver box. The Week Staff

3:14 p.m. ET
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The Vatican announced Friday that Pope Francis and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, will meet in Cuba next Friday, marking the first such meeting between a pope and a Russian patriarch in history. The Eastern Orthodox and Western factions of Christianity split nearly 1,000 years ago in 1054's Great Schism over issues such as papal authority and have remained "formally estranged" ever since, The Washington Post reports.

The private, two-hour meeting will take place at José Martí International Airport in Havana. It's seen as the most significant effort ever made to repair relations. Becca Stanek

2:45 p.m. ET
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for NRDC

Rumor has it that Bernie Sanders will make an appearance on this weekend's Saturday Night Live episode hosted by Larry David, who just so happens to be a skilled imitator of the Vermont senator. "We'll be live in New York," Sanders' senior adviser Tad Devine told CNN Friday.

This would mark Sanders' first actual appearance on the show, though David has appeared many times this season to impersonate him. Sanders' Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton made a cameo back in October.

His appearance would come just days before the New Hampshire primaries on Tuesday. NBC has yet to make an official announcement. Becca Stanek

2:35 p.m. ET

With four days to go until the New Hampshire primary, Donald Trump has made what some believe is a questionable move — leaving the state altogether. While other candidates have been staying in hotels in the state, Trump canceled his New Hampshire event on Friday after inexplicably flying back to New York late Thursday. Trump instead plans to attend a rally in South Carolina Friday evening after essentially having "a day off," Red State reports.

"Big storm in New Hampshire. Moved my event to Monday. Will be there next four days," Trump tweeted by way of explanation.

The rest of the candidates have chosen to press on, not sharing Trump's habit of flying home every night after campaigning. "My 90-year-old mother made it out to campaign," Jeb Bush tweeted at Trump.

An anonymous official speaking with CNN also raised the question of if Friday's snowfall was truly a reason to cancel an event. "There are no other campaigns canceling events as far as I know right now. We would expect there to be a blizzard for a campaign to cancel. So maybe the question is: Why did he go back to New York last night?" the GOP official asked. Watch MSNBC break down the possible consequences of Trump's decision below. Jeva Lange

1:47 p.m. ET
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A Minnesota school has banned Valentine's Day, Christmas, and other "dominant holidays" to prevent students from diverse cultures from feeling left out. Celebrating the holidays in a school with many immigrants is "threatening the culture of tolerance and respect for all," said Bruce Vento Elementary School principal Scott Masini. Many parents responded with anger, with one calling the policy "nuts." The Week Staff

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