Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

Donald Marron Wants More Fiscal Foxes

Aug 19, 2011 | Budgets & Projections

In the Christian Science Monitor, Donald Marron argues that the distinction in fiscal policy should not be between hawks and doves, but rather foxes and hedgehogs. What separates a fox and a hedgehog, you ask?

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing," wrote the ancient Greek poet Archilochus. Both foxes and hedgehogs play important roles in the policy ecosystem in normal times. In times of great change, however, society needs more foxes and fewer hedgehogs. More citizens and leaders who can adapt to new conditions, and fewer who want to preserve the status quo.

In short, foxes are the ones taking more nuanced views of fiscal policy, while hedgehogs take stubborn, unyielding, and black-and-white views. For example, on taxes:

Revenue hedgehogs know one big thing: Taxes place a burden on taxpayers and the economy. Thus, they oppose all tax increases, even efforts to reduce the many tax breaks that complicate our tax code.

Revenue foxes see things differently. They recognize the burden that taxes place on taxpayers and the economy. But they also know that tax increases are not all created equal. Higher tax rates, for example, are usually worse for the economy than cutting back on tax breaks. Indeed, cutting tax breaks sometimes frees taxpayers to make decisions based on real economic considerations rather than taxes, thus strengthening the economy. That's why revenue foxes support eliminating many tax breaks.

The same goes for entitlements. Hedgehogs oppose any benefit changes whatsoever to (for example) Social Security, while foxes "know, in short, that the future will be different from the past and that the program needs to evolve to remain sustainable." Foxes recognize the importance of these programs, but they do not take that to mean that they are untouchable.

Marron comes to the conclusion--rightfully--that what we need right now is more fiscal foxes, people who are willing to make smart changes in order to improve our fiscal situation. These are the people who reject the lines in the sand that both sides of the political spectrum have drawn. Ideally, these are the people who would be on the Joint Committee. 

Marron's attempt to shake-up the budget lexicon with new animals is not the first this year. Back in March, Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post called herself a "deficit panda," one who both cared about the deficit and believed in an active social policy for government. At CRFB, we're excited to muse on what animals are used next.