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"Starving the beast" is a fiscal-political strategy of some Americanmarker conservatives to use budget deficits via tax cuts to force future reductions in the size of government. The term "beast" refers to government and the programs it funds, particularly social programs such as welfare, Social Security, and Medicare.

The tax cuts of former US President George W. Bush's administration, still in place, are an example. He 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."


Prior to being elected as the President, then-candidate Ronald Reagan 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."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. Reagan Office of Management and Budget chief David Stockman's 1986 book The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed discusses the implementation of that budget policy in insider detail.


A well-known proponent of the strategy is activist Grover Norquist who 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.”Vice-President Dick Cheney said "Reagan proved deficits don't matter" as then-Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill warned of financial dangers presented by them ahead, according to O'Neill.

Some empirical evidence shows that such a strategy may be counterproductive, with lower taxes corresponding to higher spending. An October 2007 study by Christina D. Romer and David H. Romer of the National Bureau of Economic Research 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."

See also


  1. Europe's Welfare States. The Economist. April 1, 2004.
  2. Bartlett, Bruce. Origins and Development of a Budget Metaphor. The Independent Review. July 2, 2007.
  3. Lindberg, Mark. Foundations Have a Stake. Minnesota Council on Foundations. Spring, 2007.
  5. Mallaby, Sebastian. Don't Feed the Beast: Bush Should End This Tax-cut Myth. The Washington Post. May 8, 2006.
  10. Christina D. Romer, David H. Romer. "Do Tax Cuts Starve the Beast: The Effect of Tax Changes on Government Spending. National Bureau of Economic Research. Working Paper No. 13548. October 2007.

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