November 8, 2012

Has Stephen Harper begun “starving the beast”?

Filed under: Cancon, Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:43

In Maclean’s, Stephen Gordon says that Republicans should carefully observe the way Stephen Harper has gone about his goal of reducing the size of the government:

The “starve the beast” strategy works like this:

  1. Cut taxes.
  2. Wait until the resulting budgetary deficit becomes a problem important enough to solve.
  3. Cut spending in order to deal with the budget crisis.
  4. Go to 1.

The goal of this exercise is to steadily reduce the size of government. The idea has its origins in the US conservative movement, but US conservatives haven’t had much success in implementing it. Steps 1 and 2 work as advertised, but politicians can never get the hang of the third part.

[. . .]

Meanwhile, Stephen Harper is quietly implementing a Canadian “starve the beast” strategy, and not without success. Unlike the Republicans, the Conservatives have actually reached stage 3. Step 1 was the reduction to the GST, which created a structural deficit. After a certain period of denial, step 3 was reached in the austerity measures announced in the 2012 budget.

Federal revenues have been held below 15 per cent of GDP for four years in a row, well below the levels we’ve seen in the last fifty years. And the outlook is for more of the same.

Republicans are entering a rebuilding phase. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them start paying close attention to how the Canadian Conservatives have managed to pull off the “starve the beast” trick that always seems to elude U.S. conservatives.


  1. I’ll believe it after he’s left office, leaving behind a surplus.

    Comment by Chris Taylor — November 8, 2012 @ 11:00

  2. Difficult to do, but I hope he has the will to continue. There is so much that can be cut, but the special interests that are supported by the government are the most vocal when the milk runs dry. And the media has no problem supporting the cry babies, the CBC being chief among them.

    Comment by Dwayne — November 8, 2012 @ 12:57

  3. Gordon makes it sound like a BAD thing.

    Comment by Bill — November 8, 2012 @ 22:34

  4. I’ll believe it after he’s left office, leaving behind a surplus.

    Actually, that wouldn’t be a sign that Harper is using this mechanism. Remember step 4. Leaving a surplus would allow the next PM to go back to feeding the beast.

    Comment by Nicholas — November 9, 2012 @ 09:11

  5. Gordon makes it sound like a BAD thing.

    Gordon is actually pretty careful to be neutral in his description. Some of the comments, however, read as if Gordon was the second coming of Ronald Reagan (if you thought the original was a secular anti-christ, that is).

    Comment by Nicholas — November 9, 2012 @ 09:13

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