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Which is Worse Politically: Unemployment or Deficits?

Matt Yglesias gets this exactly right, I think:

[I]ncumbent members of congress need to get their heads out of the sand and recognize that they’re likely to be kicked out of office by angry mobs if this [a double-digit unemployment rate through the end of next year] comes to pass. A lot of politicians and political operatives in DC are very impressed by polling that shows people concerned about the budget deficit. I think it would be really politically insane for people to take that too literally. If congress makes the deficit even bigger in a way that helps spur recovery, then come election day people will notice the recovery and be happy. If, by contrast, the labor market is still a disaster then people will be pissed off. It’s true that they might say they’re pissed off at the deficit, but the underlying source of anger is the objective bad conditions.

The only thing I'd add is that when people look out and see both an abysmal labor market and a big deficit, it's probably doubly frustrating: The government isn't doing anything to help the average voter find a job (or keep one) and it's piling on debt in the process--must be lining the pockets of special interests or something. But, as Matt says, the source of the anger isn't the deficit; it's the labor market. The deficit only adds insult to injury, and it does you no good to deal with the insult without treating the injury.

Conversely, if you're able to fix the labor market, then I suspect people with think the deficit is basically worth it.