On Thursday, Christopher Rugaber's assignment at the Associated Press was to cover that day's release of Uncle Sam's Monthly Treasury Statement for March.
If the AP economics writer had limited the scope of his coverage to the statement itself, his coverage would have been passed muster. But, as he and his AP colleagues so often do, Rugaber felt it was duty to offer what he must have thought was helpful analysis. He wrote that March's reported $37 billion deficit, an admitted significant improvement over the March 2013 result, even after adjusting for timing differences in end-of-month receipts and outlays, was "the latest sign of improvement in the nation's finances." The last time I checked, running significantly in the red is not an improvement. It really signifies less rapid deterioration, especially since fiscal 2014 in full is still expected to end with deficit of over $500 billion.
Since Rugaber broadened the topic to the "nation's finances," let's compare the March deficit to that month's increase in the national debt, and make the same comparison for the five months since October (after the government shutdown ended). Finally we'll make the same comparison covering the period since February 2009, the first full month after Barack Obama became president:
The first point to make is that the national debt has grown by far more than the reported deficits during all periods presented. Perhaps Rugaber could have spent a sentence or two telling his readers why that's the case (hint to Chris: look for "off-budget" items) instead of falsely celebrating "improvement in the nation's finances."
The second point is that the best you can say about an entity which continues to run huge instead of gargantuan deficits is that the bleeding has slowed down from a gusher to a steady but still deadly flow.
The idea that there is real "improvement in the nation's finances" is a sick joke — demonstrating again why AP reporters should stick to facts and leave the analysis to others.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.