Daniel J. Mitchell

I have many frustrations in my life, and near the top of the list is the conservative fixation about balancing the budget.

This view is very misguided. Red ink isn’t good, but the fiscal problem in America (as well as Europe, Japan, etc) is that the public sector is too big. Milton Friedman was right when he wrote, “I would rather have government spend one trillion dollars with a deficit of a half a trillion dollars than have government spend two trillion dollars with no deficit.”

To put it in simple terms, government spending is the disease and deficits and debt are the symptoms.

But even that analogy is inadequate. When politicians focus on borrowing rather than spending, it opens a door allowing the left to argue that tax increases are a solution.

Yet we know from historical experience that higher taxes encourage more spending and slow economic growth, and the combination of those two factors leads to more red ink.

Consider, for example, the experience in Europe. Beginning about 20 years ago with the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty, all members of the European Union agreed to limit annual budget deficits to 3 percent of GDP and total national debt to 60 percent of GDP.

Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a top expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy at the Cato Institute.