Matt Yglesias ridicules Grover Norquist

According to the Norquistian theology, a good small-government conservative can’t agree to close a tax loophole that’s bad public policy in order to entice Democrats into agreeing to spending cuts. You can’t achieve efficiency enhancing reforms to the tax code by using the prospect of enhanced revenue as a sweetener, and you can’t broaden the coalition for spending cuts by using enhanced revenue as a sweetener. So the tax code stays inefficient and the spending level stays high, all so the members of the True Faith can be unsullied in the purity of their complaints about the inefficiency of the tax code and the high level of spending.

I think Grover’s plan makes more sense than Matt is giving him credit for. The idea is not to reform the government, its to bankrupt it. Once that is done spending reductions will come mechanically.

To wit Grover doesn’t ask candidates to sign a spending pledge. He asks them to sign a tax pledge. If you keep pushing for revenue decreasing measures and fight tooth and nail against revenue increasing measures then you create a situation where revenue – at least as a fraction of the economy – is trending down. Indeed, Grover’s basic plan has been incredibly successful in this regard.

Here are real federal tax receipts per person since 1955.

FRED Graph

You can see that what was uneven but persistent growth up until 2000 has essentially stopped. In the first quarter of 2000 the federal government took in an annualized $4250 per person (in 1982 dollars). Only the first and second quarters of 2007 exceeded that when the government took in $4300 and $4266 per person. 

Here is another way to look at the same thing. I had to Excel this unfortunately because Fred won’t (yet) let me compare years within the same series.


Look at what has happened since 2000. The trend as been ever more downward, going even into the negative for the last 4 years or so.

If one could continue this trend it would eventually drive government revenues to nothing. This I believe is Grover’s stated goal and he appears to be achieving it.

Now, in the long run I don’t think this is going to work because it cuts against demographic and ethnic trends. Minority are growing as a fraction of the population and there is a strengthening multiethnic social fabric. That force will push for expansions in the welfare state and the taxes to pay for it.

That being said, however, it wouldn’t make sense for Grover to take these trends lying down and a persistent strategy to bankrupt the government seems logical.