Starving the Beast

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Conservative Steve Chapman summarizes recent research showing that cutting taxes does not, in fact, “starve the beast.” That is, it doesn’t motivate the public to demand lower federal spending as deficits rise. In fact, it does just the opposite:

Forced to pay for everything they get, right away, Americans would undoubtedly choose to make do with less. But given the opportunity to party now and pay later — or never, if the tab can be billed to the next generation — they find no compelling reason to do without.

Think of it this way. If you want people to consume more of something, you reduce the price. If you want them to consume less, you raise the price. For most of the last 30 years, federal programs have been on sale, and they’ve found lots of buyers.

True enough. The Republican Party has basically taught Americans that deficits don’t matter. We can have all the government services we want and there’s no need to pay for them. Under the circumstances, who wouldn’t want more government services?

Of course, over the past decade conservatives have amped up the game, and they might eventually win it. Here’s how: First, slash taxes dramatically. Then increase spending explosively. Finally, destroy the economy, thus forcing a truly gargantuan increase in the federal deficit that wrecks the creditworthiness of the federal government. Eventually, whether anyone likes it or not, that’s going to rein in spending.

Of course, it will only do so after spending has already gotten far higher than conservatives ever imagined — and higher taxes will be part of the endgame too. And America will basically be a banana republic. But it will constrain spending. And when it does, the GOP can finally claim victory!

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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