Revealed Preference and the Deficit


A lot of conservatives I’m reading on Twitter seem very impressed with Philip Klein’s response to my earlier post about how conservatives don’t care about the deficit. I think it’s a fine piece, but it’s more a confirmation of what I wrote than anything else. In order, conservatives care most about making taxes as low as possible, care second about making spending as low as possible, and like to pretend to care about the deficit when Democrats are in office.

Some conservatives keep accusing me of mixing up conservatives with Republicans, who opportunistically fail to cut spending, but I think this is backwards. Just compare the difference in reaction to Republican President George H.W. Bush who made taxes higher, spending lower, and the deficit smaller versus Republican President George W. Bush who made taxes lower, spending higher, and the deficit bigger. It’s true that conservatives whined about Bush’s spending, but they consistently advocated for the passage of his budgets. Nobody was read out of the movement for voting for his deals. The contrast with his father is clear. It’s clear, and it’s telling. Conservatives want spending cuts, but they want low taxes much more and the deficit just doesn’t play into the picture.

Moderate Republicans of the “Eastern Establishment” ilk, by contrast, really do seem to care a bit about the deficit. There just aren’t very many of them anymore, and instead that banner is now carried mostly by moderate Democrats from the Great Plains.