"Starve the beast" a fiscal failure

In a recent column in Forbes magazine, Bruce Bartlett puts together a pithy policy review of "starve the beast" theory first proposed in the mid-70's by moderate Republicans, then goes on to review the empirical evidence of the failure of both it's assumptions and its results.

As a young adult at the time, the basic idea seemed rather simplistic and naive to me, but I just chalked that up to my subject area ignorance. Thirty years later, the idea that restricting government revenues would automatically shrink government was clearly a simplistic, naive idea that has amassed 30 years of economic evidence against it's validity.

The pain that California now faces with it's budget, the crisis faces in attempting to house it's prisoners, educate it's children, police it's cities, manage it's transportation system and provide a safety net for long-term unemployed workers stems directly from the passage of Proposition 13, the first large-scale iteration of starve the beast theory.

We are now living with the consequences of the idea embraced by Milton Friedman, Jack Kemp, Ronald Reagan, Alan Greenspan, Howard Jarvis, George Will and Grover Nordquist. I found this article to be a useful and important milestone, underscoring the sense that the only way out of the economic and political mess we are now in is fact-based behavior modification measured by objective results.

This will require new mechanisms for data collection and analysis, and the political will to modify and enforce policies that, like weight control, everyone knows they need to do, but find it very very difficult to accomplish.

Unfortunately, in today's political climate, when one mention's fact-based policy making, data collection and political will in the same sentence, you know it's doomed to utter failure. Until we as a people reject willful ignorance and the entertaining obfuscation of reality as a national trait, we're in for a long, painful decline.

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