Serve-the-check instead of Starve-the-beast

Here’s an interesting article “Modernizing Conservatism”, yes, not my typical subject matter. Written from a Conservative’s viewpoint it critiques some of the pillars of American Conservatism that might not be effective or useful anymore.

The part I found the most interesting is the argument against the popular Starve The Beast concept in our current political discourse. As I understand it (a big caveat) the Starve The Beast idea is that the only way to shrink the size of government is by cutting budgets severely. Because, while everyone agrees that government is too big (!) congress does not have the will to shrink it by eliminating parts of it.

So instead, do it indirectly, so that the cause and effect are separated enough and it will get through. You cut budgets in a macro way today, meaning, budget caps, tax cuts, and so on — don’t go into too much detail about the specific stuff you are cutting. And then, tomorrow, the impact of the cuts are noticed but it’s too late because the dies are cast and the beast shrinks or dies.

The problem with this is that we (the people and the leadership) like the benefits of big government so much that we revert to deficit spending despite the macro cuts. See for example the unfunded Iraq war that was explicitly kept ‘off the books‘. And so the beast doesn’t starve, the bill is just passed on to future generations.

The Serve The Check concept says, make sure that everything the government does shows up on our tax bills. I think this implies actually raising taxes. Maybe break them out into bits that can be identified: this line goes to the military, this line goes to health care and so on. Now we can see in painful detail on our tax returns what our taxes will be and we, the electorate, will insist on shrinking government.

“Long-term evidence indicates that the starve-the-beast strategy not only fails, but may make the problem of unrestrained spending growth worse, suggesting that a “serve the check” strategy might be a more effective means of curbing the growth of government spending.

The simple explanation for this seeming paradox is that the starve-the-beast strategy currently allows Americans to receive a dollar in government services while only having to pay 60 cents for it.3 Rigorous analyses from centrist economists Christina and David Romer of UC Berkeley4, and from libertarian economist (and Reagan White House alumnus) William Niskanen conclude that the starve-the-beast strategy fails.

Strikingly, Niskanen’s analysis found that lower taxes correlated with higher levels of federal spending. As a result, Niskanen argues that raising taxes may be the most effective way to reduce gov-ernment spending.” (from Modernizing Conservatism)

Ok I am going on and on. Here’s the article: Modernizing Conservatism

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