Starve the beast
"Starving the beast" is a fiscal-political strategy of some American conservatives
American conservatism
Conservatism in the United States has played an important role in American politics since the 1950s. Historian Gregory Schneider identifies several constants in American conservatism: respect for tradition, support of republicanism, preservation of "the rule of law and the Christian religion", and...

 to cut taxes in order to deprive the government of revenue in a deliberate effort to create a fiscal budget crisis that would then force the federal government to reduce spending. It has been obvious since the 1980s that the short and medium term effect of the strategy would be increased United States public debt
United States public debt
The United States public debt is the money borrowed by the federal government of the United States at any one time through the issue of securities by the Treasury and other federal government agencies...

 rather than reduced spending.

The term "beast" refers to the government and the programs it funds, particularly social programs such as welfare, Social Security
Social Security (United States)
In the United States, Social Security refers to the federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program.The original Social Security Act and the current version of the Act, as amended encompass several social welfare and social insurance programs...

, Medicare
Medicare (United States)
Medicare is a social insurance program administered by the United States government, providing health insurance coverage to people who are aged 65 and over; to those who are under 65 and are permanently physically disabled or who have a congenital physical disability; or to those who meet other...

 and public schools. The proponents of Starve the Beast have never advocated cuts in military, weapons, or prisons spending.

The tax cuts and deficit spending of former US President George W. Bush
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

's administration were attempts to "starve the beast." Bush said in 2001 "so we have the tax relief plan [...] that now provides a new kind -- a fiscal straightjacket for Congress. And that's good for the taxpayers, and it's incredibly positive news if you're worried about a federal government that has been growing at a dramatic pace over the past eight years and it has been." The tax cuts were extended by Pres. Barack Obama
Barack Obama
Barack Hussein Obama II is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election.Born in...

 in what Obama stated was a "compromise" with congressional Republicans.

Political activist Grover Norquist
Grover Norquist
Grover Glenn Norquist is an American lobbyist, conservative activist, and founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform...

 authored an oath, the so-called "Taxpayer Protection Pledge," that 279 Senators and Congressman have signed, in addition to their oaths to the U.S. Constitution. It is viewed by some of the unsigned as a stumbling block to mutual fiscal negotiations to benefit the country.


Prior to being elected as the President, then-candidate Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

 foreshadowed the strategy during the 1980 US Presidential debates, saying "John Anderson tells us that first we've got to reduce spending before we can reduce taxes. Well, if you've got a kid that's extravagant, you can lecture him all you want to about his extravagance. Or you can cut his allowance and achieve the same end much quicker." The metaphor was too simplistic to account for the spending of a kid who could borrow without near-term or medium-term limits.

It appears the earliest use of the term "starving the beast" to refer to the political-fiscal strategy was in a Wall Street Journal article in 1985 where the reporter quoted an unnamed Reagan staffer.

Analysis: economic, academic, and "think tank"

James M. Buchanan
James M. Buchanan
James McGill Buchanan, Jr. is an American economist known for his work on public choice theory, for which he received the 1986 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. Buchanan's work initiated research on how politicians' self-interest and non-economic forces affect government economic policy...

, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, helped develop the Fiscal Illusion
Fiscal Illusion
Fiscal illusion is a public choice theory of government expenditure first developed by the Italian economist Amilcare Puviani.Fiscal illusion suggests that when government revenues are unobserved or not fully observed by taxpayers then the cost of government is perceived to be less expensive than...

 hypothesis. It's obvious, he said, "borrowing allows spending to be made that will yield immediate political payoffs without the incurring of any immediate political cost." In their book Democracy in Deficit (1977), Buchanan and Richard E. Wagner suggest that the complicated nature of the U.S. tax system causes fiscal illusion and results in greater public expenditure than would be the case in an idealized system in which everyone is aware in detail of what their share of the costs of government is.

Some empirical evidence shows that Starve the Beast may be counterproductive, with lower taxes actually corresponding to higher spending. An October 2007 study by Christina D. Romer
Christina Romer
Christina D. Romer is the Class of 1957 Garff B. Wilson Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley and a former Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama administration...

 and David H. Romer of the National Bureau of Economic Research
National Bureau of Economic Research
The National Bureau of Economic Research is an American private nonprofit research organization "committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community." The NBER is well known for providing start and end...

 found: "[...] no support for the hypothesis that tax cuts restrain government spending; indeed, [the findings] suggest that tax cuts may actually increase spending. The results also indicate that the main effect of tax cuts on the government budget is to induce subsequent legislated tax increases."

William Niskanen, chairman emeritus of the libertarian
Libertarianism, in the strictest sense, is the political philosophy that holds individual liberty as the basic moral principle of society. In the broadest sense, it is any political philosophy which approximates this view...

 Cato Institute
Cato Institute
The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1977 by Edward H. Crane, who remains president and CEO, and Charles Koch, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the conglomerate Koch Industries, Inc., the largest privately held...

, criticized “starve the beast.” If deficits finance 20% of government spending, then citizens perceive government services as discounted. Services that are popular at 20% off the listed price would be less popular at full price. He hypothesized that higher revenues could constrain spending, and found strong statistical support for that conjecture based on data from 1981 to 2005. Another Cato researcher, Michael New, tested Niskanen’s model in different time periods and using a more restrictive definition of spending (non-defense discretionary spending) and arrived at a similar conclusion.

Professor Leonard E. Berman of Syracuse University testified to a U.S. Senate committee in July 2010 that: "My guess is that if President Bush had announced a new war surtax to pay for Iraq or an increase in the Medicare payroll tax rate to pay for the prescription drug benefit, both initiatives would have been less popular. Given that the prescription drug benefit only passed Congress by one vote after an extraordinary amount of arm-twisting, it seems unlikely that it would have passed at all if accompanied by a tax increase. Starve the beast doesn’t work."

Economist Bruce Bartlett
Bruce Bartlett
Bruce Bartlett is an American historian who turned to writing about supply-side economics. He was a domestic policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan and was a Treasury official under President George H.W. Bush....

 called Starve the Beast "the most pernicious fiscal doctrine in history."

Political commentary

Former U.S. vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin
Sarah Louise Palin is an American politician, commentator and author. As the Republican Party nominee for Vice President in the 2008 presidential election, she was the first Alaskan on the national ticket of a major party and first Republican woman nominated for the vice-presidency.She was...

 expressly advocates the policy: "please [Congress], starve the beast, don't perpetuate the problem, don't fund the largesse, we need to cut taxes." U.S. Senator Jon Kyl
Jon Kyl
Jon Llewellyn Kyl is the junior U.S. Senator from Arizona and the Senate Minority Whip, the second-highest position in the Republican Senate leadership. In 2010 he was recognized by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world for his persuasive role in the Senate.The son...

 (R-AZ), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, states "you should never have to offset the cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans."

A well-known proponent of the strategy is activist Grover Norquist
Grover Norquist
Grover Glenn Norquist is an American lobbyist, conservative activist, and founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform...

. He has famously said, "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

Economist Paul Krugman
Paul Krugman
Paul Robin Krugman is an American economist, professor of Economics and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, Centenary Professor at the London School of Economics, and an op-ed columnist for The New York Times...

 summarized the strategy in February 2010: "Rather than proposing unpopular spending cuts, Republicans would push through popular tax cuts, with the deliberate intention of worsening the government’s fiscal position. Spending cuts could then be sold as a necessity rather than a choice, the only way to eliminate an unsustainable budget deficit." He wrote that the "...beast is starving, as planned..." and that "Republicans insist that the deficit must be eliminated, but they’re not willing either to raise taxes or to support cuts in any major government programs. And they’re not willing to participate in serious bipartisan discussions, either, because that might force them to explain their plan — and there isn’t any plan, except to regain power."

"Feed The Beast"

There exists a related idea known as "Feed the Beast," which means increasing taxes for the purported purpose of balancing the budget only to make the government spend those inflows. Economists Stephen Moore and Richard Vedder
Richard Vedder
Richard Vedder is an American economist, historian, author, columnist, and currently a professor at Ohio University.-Biography:Born in 1940, Vedder earned his B.A. in economics at Northwestern University in 1962 and his Ph.D in economics at the University of Illinois in 1965. He has since studied...

 have written in the Wall Street Journal editorial page that every new dollar of new taxes leads to more than one dollar of new spending according to their research. Their conclusions have been disputed by economist and writer Bruce Bartlett
Bruce Bartlett
Bruce Bartlett is an American historian who turned to writing about supply-side economics. He was a domestic policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan and was a Treasury official under President George H.W. Bush....

 in The Fiscal Times
The Fiscal Times
The Fiscal Times is an English-language digital news, news analysis and opinion publication based in New York, NY and Washington, D.C., founded and initially funded in 2010 by Peter G. Peterson, founder of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation...

, who stated that tax increases in the early 90s
-Significant people:* Titus Flavius Domitianus, Roman Emperor * Nerva, Roman Emperor...

 helped contribute to more austere budgets in the late 90s
-Significant people:* Titus Flavius Domitianus, Roman Emperor * Nerva, Roman Emperor...


See also

  • Financial position of the United States
  • Taxation in the United States
    Taxation in the United States
    The United States is a federal republic with autonomous state and local governments. Taxes are imposed in the United States at each of these levels. These include taxes on income, property, sales, imports, payroll, estates and gifts, as well as various fees.Taxes are imposed on net income of...

  • Reaganomics
    Reaganomics refers to the economic policies promoted by the U.S. President Ronald Reagan during the 1980s, also known as supply-side economics and called trickle-down economics, particularly by critics...

  • Tax resistance
    Tax resistance
    Tax resistance is the refusal to pay tax because of opposition to the government that is imposing the tax or to government policy.Tax resistance is a form of civil disobedience and direct action...

Further reading

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