Starving beasts get angry

Readers are no doubt familiar with calls (usually from Republicans) to “starve the beast” — that is, to reduce tax rates and thus tax income to levels that won’t support the size of government we have now, and thereby force the government to become smaller, leaner, and (one hopes) more focused on providing the basic services of a night-watchman state rather than bombing other countries and kicking down doors in no-knock drug raids*.  Whenever we try it, though, reducing tax income simply drives the beast to consume the same amount of money (or more) in the form of debt, which is sort of like raising taxes on our (grand)kids.  Won’t someone think of the poor precious children?

But suppose the starving hungry peckish beast couldn’t borrow more money to spend in place of tax revenues.  Wouldn’t that force a final slimming?  This, I gather, is the driving hypothesis behind July’s debt-ceiling shenanigans.  It relies upon the rather tautological proposition that an unsustainable process will eventually stop.

I should not in passing that falling off a building is unsustainable.  Eventually, the ground will stop you.

In any case, it turns out that Greece has provided us with a natural experiment on the results of starve-the-beast.  Y’see, Greeks (in aggregate) tend to regard filling out their taxes in the same way as high school students regard English essays: somewhere between a drudgerous exercise in telling an authority figure what they want to hear while expending a minimum of effort and a juicy creative opportunity to construct a castle in the clouds, pasting together carefully-chosen excerpts from the source material to support whatever absurd thesis seems most appealing.  That is, tax evasion is the national sport.

So having been starved of tax income for a good long time, the Greek beast has been dependent upon borrowed money to get its fiscal fix.  Surprise!  Look how that turned out.

Briefly: Greece jumped off the building decades ago, and the EU has spent most of this year desperately digging up the sidewalk while telling everyone who’ll listen that Greece will find a parachute in its pockets, we mean it, real soon now.  Spoiler warning: it’s not gonna happen.

Weight loss looks like a simple matter of thermodynamics: burn more calories than you consume.  This is true to a zeroth approximation, but sustainable body-composition changes are a hell of a lot more complex (to start with, you need to stop saying “weight loss” and start saying “fat loss”).  As it is with people, so it is with governments: the human metabolism and its attendant endocrinological complications are forbiddingly complex, but then again so is the apparatus of the state.  Let’s move away from “plans” to reduce the scope of government that amount to nothing more than “eat less, fatty”.


* Just kidding!  Most proponents of starve-the-beast want a government that kicks down doors foreign and domestic.  Before you go all wharrgarbl in my comments section, though, here’s some basic set theory: most libertarians are (often wistfully) fond of starve-the-beast, but most starve-the-beast advocates are not libertarians.


2 Responses to “Starving beasts get angry”

  1. November 2, 2011 at 21:19

    I would have liked to see a more explicit statement about angry States than just the title. When it is Germany’s turn, whether that’s one year(s) from now or fifty, won’t they end up getting pretty violent? Well…as violent as bureaucrats get, anyway. Greece’s riots are pretty impotent, but I don’t expect Germany’s to be. Or America’s.

    That said, wharrgarbl is a fantastic word, and reminds me of arglbargle.

    • November 2, 2011 at 21:40

      Yeah, this one twisted away from me as I wrote it.

      I wouldn’t call Greece’s riots impotent, necessarily: people are getting hurt and killed. Not that they’re necessarily going to effect political (or more important, sociological) change, mind.

      It occurs to me that the Tea Party and Occupy Movement protests might be safety valves in a sense, in that they represent different segments of society realizing that they’ve been sold a lie and venting their frustrations about it without ever getting near the critical mass necessary to engage in true violence. When the Washington Insiders finally admit that they’ve well and truly fucked the country, the two poles of the populist movement will be able to say “we told you so!” rather than “we tried to tell you, and you didn’t listen!” There’s more of a sense of agency involved.

      How’s it going to go in Germany? No idea. The Germans I know don’t seem like very protest-y folk. I suspect that the Eurozone issue will come to a head in the next election, when enough Germans will have decided that they play by the rules, so the rest of the EZ should play by the rules too or GTFO. Bad news for the Euro, but the Euro’s fucked anyway.

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