After weeks of dismissing news that the economy is improving and downplaying concerns over income inequality, Fox News is now trying to pivot the conversation away from economic growth to focus on deficit reduction, even as economists continue to warn that doing so would be bad for the economy.
Fox News contributor Tucker Carlson and anchor Martha MacCallum argued that the debt "needs to be an issue" in the presidential election, and urged Republican candidates to make debt reduction "the issue" in the campaign. When guest Christopher Hahn argued that debt reduction could wait until the economy is on firmer ground before making our primary focus deficit reduction, MacCallum scoffed: "Oh please!"
Economists warn that debt reduction should wait until the economic recovery is on firmer ground. Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, explained that prioritizing the deficit now "makes no sense":
There are no businesses that are going to hire additional workers because the government laid off school teachers or firefighters and we cut back spending on food stamps. Businesses hire more workers when they see more demand for their product. All of these actions that reduce the deficit, either on the spending or tax side, translate into less demand and therefore less employment. In short, those who want to cut the deficit now are lobbying for fewer jobs and higher unemployment.
Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has argued that a premature focus on deficits would be "counterproductive."
This tactic of shifting the debate away from jobs and economic growth to fixate on debt is nothing new at Fox. In the spring of 2010, while economists were arguing that more needed to be done to reduce unemployment and help grow the economy, Fox News insisted that debt was "our number one issue." At the time, Krugman argued that "jobs now, deficits later was and is the right strategy."
The effect of that hijacked debate was a credit downgrade that Fox News figures cheered.
It's not just economists who say it's not time to shift attention away from economic growth. Voters overwhelmingly say that jobs and the economy should be the focus of this year's election, not the debt. Voters are also more likely to say that the economy is moving in the right direction, rather than the wrong direction; and they are more likely to say that the Republican Party is moving in the wrong direction.
All of which could explain why Fox is trying to move the debate in a different direction.