When did we lose the modifier, "fiscal," from the brand name, "conservative?" The term conservative has taken all kinds of meanings over at least the past century. As a political economist, my training and therefore my belief structure is founded upon prudent (read that-sensible) personal and public financial principles (read that rules for living when related to personal, and laws and regulation when related to public). By that measure, I am a conservative.
The Republican Party has captured the label, "Conservative," but its actions are far removed from the intended definition. Viewing the most recent past, when this party was in control of the Federal Government, it managed to raid the Treasury in two ways. It cut taxes and sanctioned two unfunded wars. It is not a party of fiscal conservatism.
Now I get to the dilemma of current day conservatism dealing with progress. In its present day form, conservatives are antithetical to moving forward. This problem does not exist in fiscal conservatism, i.e., living within one's means. In my lifetime there were several balanced budgets, most the result of ending wars. These occurred between 1946 and 47 and 47-48 as a result of reductions after World War II. Again balances happened between 1950 and 51, 55 and 56 and 56 and 57, the first 3 within the Truman Administration, the last two under the Eisenhower Administration. During this time, the highest marginal tax rate that contributed to such result was 91% and the economy for the most part, thrived.
A balanced budget was achieved between 1999 and 2001. Both parties like to claim a budget surplus at the end of the Clinton Administration. The final outlays shown in the Report of the Treasury were deficits, but with the addition of off budget elements, there was a surplus. It is difficult to determine from published documents whether a budget led in the end to a surplus or deficit. The only telltale is whether the total deficit increased or decreased. The deficit clock on 6th Avenue in New York was turned off in 2000, but turned back on in 2002. Before 2001 it was a Democratic Administration in charge, succeeded by a Republican one that ran deficits for every year it was in power and turned the clock back on.
While my philosophy of fiscal conservatism concludes that government must balance its books, I consider this necessity to be one of over time and not every year. Thus, I am opposed to a Constitutional Amendment that would require a balanced budget for each year. This leads me to my final thought. During periods of recession it is necessary for government expenditures to exceed receipts. This principle stems from consideration of the components of Gross National Product (GNP), consumer expenditures, private and public investment, and other public expenditure. Those who call for reduction in public expenditure, especially investment, during periods of recession should review the economic history of the U.S., especially what occurred in 1929-30.
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