FOLLOW THE WEEK ON FACEBOOK
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

1:20 p.m. ET
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson won the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination Sunday. He secured the win on the second ballot of the Orlando, Florida, convention with 55.8 percent of the vote.

Johnson, also the Libertarian Party's pick in 2012, has been polling in the double digits against both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. To qualify for televised debates, he'll need to hit 15 percent. Julie Kliegman

12:53 p.m. ET
John Moore/Getty Images

The family of a Pakistani taxi driver, Mohammad Azam, who was killed in May by an American drone strike, has demanded a criminal inquiry into the U.S. government. Following an investigative report filed by Azam's brother, Mohammad Qasim, local police are obliged to investigate the death.

Azam "was the sole breadwinner of our large joint family, [so] this was an attack on our family that hardly earns enough for two meals a day," Qasim said, noting that before he was killed Azam supported six family members, including a disabled brother. "Who will feed them now?" he asked, demanding compensation to maintain his relatives' livelihood.

There is some precedent for his effort: The families of some past drone strike victims who have been deemed innocent after the fact have received secret condolence payments from Washington.

The drone strike's target, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, happened to be Azam's taxi fare when the bombs hit. Bonnie Kristian

12:37 p.m. ET
Pete Souza/White House/Getty Images

Bo and Sunny Obama are apparently just as busy as the rest of the first family. First Lady Michelle Obama told The Associated Press on Sunday that she's in charge of managing their schedule of appearances each month.

But don't worry, when the Portuguese water dogs, ages 7 and 3, aren't greeting tourists, they have some time to unwind.

"They can sit on my lap, they sit on my chair, they cuddle with me," Obama said. "I like to lay on the floor with them and blow in their face. I like to make them run and chase each other. But they're so cute, I just love to just cuddle them and massage them."

The dogs also get up to their share of mischief around the house.

“You know what [Sunny] does sometimes?" Obama said. "She leaves the kitchen and she'll sneak and she'll go poop on the other end of the White House." Julie Kliegman

11:51 a.m. ET
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Amish are a unique Christian community known for their radical forgiveness, pacifism, and eschewal of worldly goods. Donald Trump believes he needs no forgiveness from God, advocates bombing women and children, and lives in a penthouse that is entirely covered in gold.

But Trump allies with ties to Ben Carson and Newt Gingrich think it's a political match made in heaven. In fact, they've formed an Amish PAC in an attempt to persuade the 70,000 Amish people in Pennsylvania and Ohio, both swing states, to turn out for Trump this November.

The project faces an uphill battle. Though a few Amish voters do show up at the polls each election, most do not vote for theological reasons. Of course, the Amish have been spared Trump's Twitter feed thanks to their rejection of computer technology — but it is difficult to fathom that a religious group that considers buttons too ostentatious will be persuaded to back the king of ostentation. Bonnie Kristian

11:36 a.m. ET

A 4-year-old boy sustained serious injuries after crawling into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo on Saturday, ABC News reports. A 17-year-old, 400-pound male gorilla named Harambe picked up the boy and dragged him around after he fell at least 10 feet into a moat.

A zoo employee fatally shot the gorilla so firefighters could enter the enclosure and rescue the child, whose name has not been released. The boy was hospitalized with injuries that are reportedly not life-threatening.

"The zoo security team's quick response saved the child's life. We are all devastated that this tragic accident resulted in the death of a critically endangered gorilla," the zoo director said in a statement. "This is a huge loss for the zoo family and the gorilla population worldwide. Julie Kliegman

10:54 a.m. ET
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Marco Rubio apologized to Donald Trump for making fun of his hand size, the former Republican candidate said in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper that aired Sunday.

"I actually told Donald — one of the debates, I forget which one — I apologized to him for that," Rubio explained on State of the Union. "I said, 'You know, I'm sorry that I said that. It's not who I am and I shouldn't have done it.' I didn't say it in front of the cameras. I didn't want any political benefit." Rubio recently indirectly indicated he will support Trump this November.

The Trump-Rubio tiff dates to February, when the Florida senator hit back at Trump after the presumed GOP nominee began calling him "Little Rubio." "You know what they say about guys with small hands," he quipped, adding after a pause, "You can't trust 'em!" Trump has been sensitive to suggestions that his hands are small since a 1988 magazine article called him a "short-fingered vulgarian." Bonnie Kristian

10:52 a.m. ET
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Top Donald Trump adviser Paul Manafort is gently walking back his Wednesday assertion that the presumptive Republican nominee wouldn't choose a male person of color or a woman as a running mate because that would be "pandering."

In an interview with ABC's This Week on Sunday, Manafort clarified that candidates from those groups wouldn't be omitted from Trump's list of potential running mates; rather, they just won't earn spots on the list solely because of their race or gender.

"If a female is qualified, that's a totally different story," he said. "And there are many Republican women who are qualified, and several who might be on the list."

Manafort also confirmed that Trump is seeking a vice president with Washington, D.C., experience. Julie Kliegman

See More Speed Reads