The Behavioral Political Economy of Budget Deficits: How Starve the Beast Policies Feed the Machine Academic Article uri icon


  • The notion of starving the beast has been an important justification for fiscal programs emphasizing revenue reductions since the mid-1970s. While the idea of restraining government spending by limiting government revenues has an intuitive appeal, there is convincing evidence the reducing federal tax rates without coordinated reductions in federal spending actually produces long-term growth in spending. This perverse result is explained by a theory of fiscal illusion. By deferring the costs of government services and benefits through deficit financing, starve the beast policies have the effect of lowering the perceived price of government in the minds of many citizens. We assess the principal behavioral prediction of the fiscal illusion theory.Incorporating estimates of the effects of federal deficits into a standard substantive model of Stimson's mood index, we find strong support for a subjective price-driven theory of demand for government. In particular, we find that the size of the federal budget deficit is significantly associated with greater demand for government services and benefits. This may have important implications for contemporary debates about fiscal discipline.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Ura, J. D., & Socker, E. M.

citation count

  • 7

complete list of authors

  • Ura, Joseph Daniel||Socker, Erica M

publication date

  • January 2011

published in