Skip to main content

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions

Lessons from the Fiscal Cliff

The conventional view of America's fiscal problems is that a reasonable, balanced approach entails both spending cuts and tax increases. But the two methods should be considered polar opposites, because spending cuts reduce the size of government – and thus boost economic growth.

CAMBRIDGE – One of the many things I learned from Milton Friedman is that the true cost of government is its spending, not its taxes. To put it another way, spending is financed either by current taxes or through borrowing, and borrowing amounts to future taxes, which have almost the same impact on economic performance as current taxes.

We can apply this reasoning to the United States’ unsustainable fiscal deficit. As is well known, closing this deficit requires less spending or more taxes.

The conventional view is that a reasonable, balanced approach entails some of each. But, as Friedman would have argued, the two methods should be considered polar opposites. Less spending means that the government will be smaller. More taxes mean that the government will be larger. Hence, people who favor smaller government (for example, some Republicans) will want the deficit closed entirely by cutting spending, whereas those who favor larger government (for example, President Barack Obama and most Democrats) will want the deficit closed entirely by raising taxes.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/xsvoZoo;
  1. lhatheway7_Claudio Santistebanpicture alliance via Getty Images_ECBFedLagardePowell Claudio Santisteban/picture alliance via Getty Images

    Restoring Central Banks’ Credibility

    Larry Hatheway

    The old central-bank playbook of slashing interest rates to spur consumption, investment, and employment has become less effective since the 2008 financial crisis. Yet without effective tools and the public's confidence, central banks will be unable to rise to the occasion when the next recession arrives.

    0
  2. fischer163_action press-PoolGetty Images_natoflagsoldiers Action Press-Pool/Getty Images

    The Day After NATO

    Joschka Fischer

    French President Emmanuel Macron has drawn criticism for describing NATO as brain dead and pursuing a rapprochement with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But now that a wayward America could abandon the continent at any moment, Macron's argument for European defense autonomy is difficult to refute.

    7