Budget Deficits and Demand for Government: How Starve the Beast Policies Feed the Machine
25 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2010
Date Written: September 28, 2010
The notion of "starving the beast"' has been an important justification for fiscal programs emphasizing revenue reductions since the mid-1970s. While the idea of restraining government spending by limiting government revenues has an intuitive appeal, there is convincing evidence the reducing federal tax rates without coordinated reductions in federal spending actually produces long-term growth in spending. This perverse result is explained by a theory of "fiscal illusion.'' By deferring the costs of government services and benefits through deficit financing, starve the beast policies have the effect of lowering the perceived price of government in the minds of many citizens. We assess the principal behavioral prediction of the fiscal illusion strategy. Incorporating estimates of the effects of federal deficits into a standard substantive model of Stimson's mood index, we find strong support for a subjective price-driven theory of demand for government. In particular, we find that the size of the federal budget deficit is significantly associated with greater demand for government services and benefits.
Keywords: Deficits, Fiscal Illusion, Public Opinion, Macro Politics, Starve the Beast
JEL Classification: D72, P16
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation