Nial Ferguson’s indignant observation that “a deficit this size has not been seen in the US since the second world war” is an interesting exercise in rhetoric. Conveniently, it’s completely accurate! But what’s missing here is that the deficit projected for next year is way smaller than WWII deficits:
To say something like “Obama is going to run a deficit slightly bigger than what we saw in the Reagan years” is a lot less terrifying than “a deficit this size has not been seen in the US since the second world war.” But we’re looking at a debt level that’s much more comparable to what was wracked up in the 1980s and early 90s than to what we saw in the late-1940s.
What’s more, by definition some level of deficits has to be “the biggest deficit since World War II.” What we have right now is the most several global downturn since World War II. That seems to me like a perfectly reasonable candidate for biggest deficit since World War II. What would be a better time?