Starving the Government

STARVING THE GOVERNMENT….This is weird. Yesterday I wrote about the conservative (or neoconservative?) idea that large budget deficits are actually a good thing because they starve the government and eventually force cutbacks in social programs. I honestly didn’t think of this as especially controversial, but rather as a fairly orthodox part of conservative doctrine these days. By chance, however, Paul Krugman wrote about the same thing yesterday and here’s what James Taranto ? in full sarcasm mode ? had to say about this in the Wall Street Journal:

Well, heck. We’re all in favor of cutting spending on social programs, especially popular ones (shared sacrifice and all that), but we’d have more faith that this is what Republicans plan to do if government spending weren’t increasing while they control the White House and both houses of Congress. This “starve the government” stuff seems to be the latest in a series of Democratic delusions: the “stolen election,” the “neocon conspiracy,” “unilateral war in Iraq,” “questioning John Kerry’s patriotism,” etc. The partisan left puts these crazy ideas forward with such regularity and intensity that it almost seems to arise from a medical condition of some sort.

A “Democratic delusion”? Let’s go to the tape. Here is former Reagan staffer Bruce Bartlett in the LA Times on Sunday:

As he was thinking about what this new economic policy might be, [Irving] Kristol came in contact with Jude Wanniski, then an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal, who was intrigued by some new ideas about tax cutting advocated by economists Arthur Laffer and Robert Mundell.

….When California’s Proposition 13 came along in 1978, Kristol saw another way in which tax cutting was useful. By denying government its fuel, tax cuts forced politicians to cut spending. In this sense, supply-side economics echoed the thinking of conservative economist Milton Friedman, who wrote in a 1978 column that “the only effective way to restrain government spending is by limiting government’s explicit tax revenue ? just as a limited income is the only effective restraint on any individual’s or family’s spending.”

….Starving the beast and increasing incentives for work, saving and investment are still good reasons to cut taxes today.

So let’s see, in just this one article we have Bruce Bartlett, Irving Kristol, Jude Wanniski, and Milton Friedman all buying into this idea. And when they talk about “starving” the government, I’m pretty sure they aren’t talking about cutting back on military spending.

I think Taranto is the one who must be suffering from a medical condition of some kind. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out which one.

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