Deficits make government spending cheaper

Amusing Cato study arguing that if you pay for government spending with deficits, spending doesn’t fall due to a budget crunch, as some conversatives hope. Instead:

So: what happens if the federal government reduces taxes and runs a deficit — thus lowering the “cost” of government? People will “buy” more government.

More specifically the article shows a correlation between cutting taxes and increased spending (not decreased spending as the Starve-the-Beast types hope). The article also shows a correlation between raising taxes and decreased (relative) government spending. The author goes on to argue this is not mere correlation, he argues there is a direct cause and effect relationship.

And the author is from the Cato Institute, a very strongly Libertarian think tank normally considered to be mostly on the right side of the spectrum.

In other words, the whole “Starve the Beast” theory is complete and utter bullshit.

If you cut taxes without cutting spending, you give people “free” government and if you give people something for nothing, they want more of it, which is of course key conservative theory. So by conservative principles, the current administration and congress are pretty damn non-conservative :). Or to put it another way, they are unprincipled whores concerned with gathering power and giveaways to their corporate contributors.

Libertarians are less and less “right side of the spectrum” thanks to the neocons. Republican lawmakers are currently fiscally irresponsible deficit junkies (anathema to libertarians) and are gung-ho for legislating morality (ditto). Bush and company are therefore about as far from libertarian thinking as it is possible to get, and are labeled as right wing, so we libertarian folk must therefore be as lefty as the commies :-).

In all seriousness, this kind of ambiguity emphasizes the futility of the right/left spectrum as a useful politcal labeling tool. I much prefer the 4 quadrant model, but it’s as yet uncommon enough that it can’t be used in general discussion.

Interesting – if people are paying higher taxes, they apparently think “The government is soaking me – rein in the spending”.

And Dave Markell is right – it’s frustrating to try and explain how I’m an Economist-style libertarian, and people assume I’m a full-on right winger.

I share this frustration. In the United States, both major parties deliberately cultivate the either/or right/left style of political thought to ensure their continued dominance. I have no idea how things are in the Netherlands, where you reside. Is it a multiparty parliamentary democracy?

Well, the starve the beast theory was basically invented as an after-the-fact rationalization for Reagan living in la-la land on creating a huge honkin’ deficit. If you believe David Stockman, Reagan just refused to accept there wasn’t enough politically cuttable spending offsets, punted on it, and then congress signed it all.

Well I’m American so most of my experience is also in the U.S., but I have picked up a little bit about Dutch politics. It is a multiparty parliamentary democracy, which has flexibility that I like – for instance if you’re mainly concerned about the environment, you can vote for the Green Party and directly increase their influence without being forced to vote for a catch-all left-wing party like the Democrats. Seems more nuanced than the American two-party system.

There is actually a viable libertarian party in the Netherlands, the VVD, although they’re not as anxious to dismantle the government as the American Libertarian Party is. The wiki on Dutch political parties calls the VVD right-wing, which is probably accurate for Holland since social issues like abortion, homosexuality and the death penalty are not at all contentious here to my knowledge. Everyone here would be considered socially liberal in the U.S., so parties are defined more by economic policies than social policies. (Although the integration of Muslim immigrants (or lack thereof) has been the hot-button issue here the last few years.)

It’s time for charts again.

Yup, once again the American people need to be told that we can’t have it all. We can’t increase spending on counter-terrorism measures, fight a multi-hundred billion war overseas, add an prescription drug benefit to Medicare, pay the reconstruction costs for the nation’s largest natural disaster AND have permanent tax cuts.

We are spending beyond are means. And that means one thing:

We need to raise taxes.

The sooner people accept that fact means the sooner we can move on to the much more important question of how and on who?

The problem with the 4-quadrant model is that the axes are chosen just to make Libertarianism appear to be a coherent belief system. It doesn’t capture the most significant dimension, which is power that is wielded unaccountably. The fact that the power is wielded by the government, or not, is insignificant.

What is this “4-quadrant model” you speak of? Is it like the political version of the Time Cube?

Coherence is something libertarian thought has never lacked. Its guiding principle–maximize individual liberty unless said liberty infringes on others–lies behind every position a libertarian espouses (though individual interpretations of course vary). It has no need to “appear” to be coherent–indeed, very few political philosophies come anywhere close to competing with libertarianism in this arena.

Go here for a quick overview of the topic. The section entitled “Nolan chart” is particularly useful.

“Maximize individual liberty unless said liberty infringes on others” just punts the entire problem to “defining liberty”; it doesn’t solve anything, IMHO. This also applies to utilitarianism, for what it’s worth.

I do not really think that ‘axis’ is missing. It is implied. Who do you want to have more power? Cooperate America? Uncle Sam? Madison Avenue? Your home owners association?

If you want to deregulate business, you want cooperate America to have more power. If you want to legislate morality, you want the government to have more power.

Pick your poison. Somebody has to have a concentration of power. This is not some fantasy utopia where everyone can share power equally. While I am not happy about Uncle Sam having a lot of power, id much rather the he have most of it and Cooperate America have the least amount.

I would never expect the resident champion of “War on Poverty” style big government to feel differently :-).

The term “Classical Anarchists” causes me to grin.

Ah, the Pournelle chart. Interesting, but in my opinion the Nolan chart below is more useful.

I personally prefer the OKCupid political chart:

Yeah, that one rocks, but it’s really just a shaded version of the Nolan chart with parties/philosophies drawn in for illustrative purposes. Gotta love how the only ones to get a symbol are the anarchists.

Also, duck and cover.