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The Growth of the Federal Deficit and the Role of Public Attitudes

Andre Modigliani and Franco Modigliani
The Public Opinion Quarterly
Vol. 51, No. 4 (Winter, 1987), pp. 459-480
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2749322
Page Count: 22
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The Growth of the Federal Deficit and the Role of Public Attitudes
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Abstract

How can the recent explosion in the fiscal deficit of the United States be reconciled with the well-known support of the American public for fiscal conservatism? It is first shown that the reputation for fiscal conservatism is fully supported by public opinion polls dating back over a period of four decades. Solid majorities have consistently opposed tax reductions that might produce an unbalanced budget. Recently, however, the public has also shown strong opposition to increases in taxes to close the fiscal gap, which might appear to imply a new acquiescence to the deficit. But this opposition, too, is shown to have persisted for a long time and to be not logically inconsistent with rejecting tax cuts resulting in deficit. Another fashionable explanation for the deficit holds that the budget process in a democratic society is biased toward deficit because the cost of higher taxes is immediate while the cost of deficit is delayed. But it is inconsistent with the fiscal history of the United States over the last 100 years, which reveals no systematic bias toward deficits, at least until recent years. The major explanation that emerges is that the administration succeeded in misleading the public (and perhaps even itself) into believing that the tax cut would not result in deficit thanks to "supply" and "Laffer curve" effects.

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