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Thread: Does fiscal conservatism require small government?

  1. #1
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    Default Does fiscal conservatism require small government?

    I'm in the midst of an online debate with a conservative friend of mine. I described my preference for balanced budgets (over the long term--economists with far better financial chops than I claim that there are times when running deficits makes sense) as being "fiscally conservative." My friend objected, saying that "Fiscal conservatism means that the budget is not only balanced but it is as small as it needs to be."

    One trouble with my friends description is that there's really no way to measure how large or small a budget "needs" to be. A second trouble is that his description may be the way that "fiscal conservatism" is commonly understood, but common understanding doesn't necessarily equate to correct understanding. I countered that "fiscal conservatism" and "small government" are generally separate, unrelated traits of conservatism. I also asked who the last fiscally conservative President was (by my friend's definition or mine), but didn't get an answer.

    Perhaps I should say "fiscally prudent" instead of "fiscally conservative?" What do people on the board think? What are the important elements of a good definition of "fiscally conservative?"

  2. #2
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    Interesting salon.com article on "fiscal conservatism." The author "bookends" his case with two provocative quotes.

    There is no such thing as "fiscal conservatism." The phrase "fiscal conservatism" in common usage today has two meanings -- one trivial, the other misleading. ... It is time for the weasel words "fiscal conservatism" to be dropped from public discourse altogether.

  3. #3
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    I think that "fiscal conservative" has meaning in public debate only in specific historical, economic or political contexts and is useful pretty much only for signaling certain bona fides and political pre-dispositions (again in context). Recent presidents Reagan, Clinton, and W all described themselves as fiscal conservatives, yet they deployed many different economic policies and achieved very different outcomes. Interestingly, it was only the Democrat who was able to achieve fiscal health. The two Republicans ran record deficits; and W, in particular, presided over a vast expansion of the federal government and the worst economic collapse in almost a century.

  4. #4
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    I'm sure there was a time when the term "fiscal conservative" meant something, but by now it's been reduced to a political slogan intended to win votes.

    It's not much different from the food industry's use of the term "All Natural" on their products.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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