In my forthcoming book, which will be published by the Cambridge University Press, I address the “starve the beast” view at what I consider a more fundamental level.
BTW, the two leading candidates for the book’s title at this point are: (1) “The Abuse of Fiscal Language and the U.S. Government’s March Towards Bankruptcy,” and (2) “The Use and Abuse of Fiscal Language: Taxes, Spending, and the U.S. Government’s March Towards Bankruptcy.” I prefer # 2 aesthetically, but am inclined to accept counsel that # 1 is better commercially.
In the book, I address the problems with using deficits instead of long-term fiscal measures. But this is only Exhibit # 2 in how fiscal language has encouraged making things worse.
Exhibit # 1 is the use of the terms “taxes” and “spending” as proxies for determining the size of government. Thus, if the government were to give me $1 billion which I immediately handed back, simplistic idiots would say: “There’s just been a billion dollars of taxes and spending!” I would say that really nothing has happened.
No idle hypothetical – Social Security, for example, has aspects of this, although there is a greater time lag and the cash you get back may not equal, in time-adjusted value, the cash you put back. But this means it’s the aspects of non-equivalence, not the gross cash flows each way, that determine how significant the whole thing is.
The size of government, I’d say, is a concept that, in the budgetary realm, involves trying to quantify the effects of government policy, relative to some baseline that has to be specified, on allocation and distribution – on what we have and who has it. (I limit this to the budgetary realm because issues such as civil liberties operate in different dimensions.)
Once you take this perspective, the utter inadequacy of discerning how much the government is doing from the number of dollars associated with discrete and often offsetting cash flows becomes pretty clear.
Against this background, what does “starve the beast” accomplish even if there are large spending cuts in future years? (Note: there will almost certainly be large tax increases as well.) Point 1: It definitely increases redistribution, by handing vast sums of extra money to older generations at the expense of younger generations. (Older generations were huge net winners even before the whole exercise started.) Point 2: It probably increases government-induced economic distortion, what with the heightened disparity between tax rates in different periods, the instability and risk of fiscal crisis throughout the adjustment process (which may become chronic rather than coming to an end), etc.
If any “starve the beast” advocate whatsoever has actually tried to think through how the adjustment process is likely to go, and in particular why my analysis would NOT be correct, I certainly have yet to hear it. They are seemingly determined not to look past their own noses.