Since the Reagan Revolution of the early 1980s, Republicans have consistently championed tax cuts for individuals and businesses, regardless of whether the economy is booming or in recession or whether the federal budget is in surplus or deficit. In Starving the Beast: Ronald Reagan and the Tax Cut Revolution, sociologist Monica Prasad uncovers the origins of the GOP’s relentless focus on tax cuts and shows how this is a uniquely American phenomenon.
Drawing on never-before seen archival documents, Prasad traces the history of the 1981 tax cut—the famous “supply side” tax cut, which became the cornerstone for the next several decades of Republican domestic economic policy. She demonstrates that the main impetus behind this tax cut was not business group pressure, racial animus, or a belief that tax cuts would pay for themselves. Rather, the tax cut emerged because Republicans believed that following World War II, Democrats had created an extremely durable power structure based on offering government programs to Americans, through which they were able to unify an otherwise fractious coalition of farmers, workers, and African Americans and retain control of Congress for four decades. The Republican party began to see tax cuts as an opportunity to alter these basic building blocks of American power. If Democratic power was built out of government programs, Republicans found a new power source in offering tax cuts. Once it became clear that the resulting deficits could be financed by foreign capital, this program reoriented the Republican Party, transforming it from the party of fiscal rectitude into a party whose main domestic policy goal is reducing taxes. With one party promoting government programs to appeal to voters and the other party promoting tax cuts to appeal to voters—and neither party able to generate electoral coalitions around addressing more pressing political and economic problems—Starving the Beast reveals problems at the heart of contemporary American democracy itself.