What is Fiscal Conservatism?

people protesting Reaganomics
Union workers protest 'Reaganomics' during the President's visit to Columbus. (Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Although Republicans built their party on the tenets of fiscal conservatism in the mid-1800s, the fiscal conservatives who founded the movement would have resembled the paleoconservatives of today. At the time, Republican fiscal conservatives were very suspicious of the nation doing business outside its own borders. The policies adopted by these early Republicans were largely in favor of big-businesses (for economic purposes) and the steady, reliable income from tariffs.


Fiscal conservatism of today is most closely associated with Reaganomics, named after President Ronald Reagan, who, after taking office in 1981, cut income taxes, deregulated the economy and attempted to reign in spending all to reduce the size of government. Increased military spending trumped Reagan's effort to introduce supply-side economics, however, and by 1989, the national debt had actually increased under his watch.

Modern fiscal conservatives remain wary of government spending and are often more Libertarian than Republican. They advocate lowering the federal budget, paying off the national debt, and withdrawing military forces from overseas in an effort to curtail military spending.

Although fiscal conservatives of today remain pro-business, they are hesitant to increase spending as a way to spur the economy. They believe the best way to promote a healthy economy is to cut taxes, reduce government waste and curtail frivolous federal programs. They believe social services should be funded with money from philanthropists and advocate tax breaks for those who contribute to worthy charitable organizations.


There are many critics of fiscal conservatives. Most notable among these are liberal politicians who believe the primary responsibility of US government is to use tax money to regulate the economy and provide social services.

Political Relevance

While fiscal conservatism has become a buzzword in Washington, DC, much of the Republican base remains committed to its ideals. Unfortunately for its proponents, many who claim to be fiscal conservatives have turned out to be exactly the opposite.

Fiscal conservatism has little to do with social or "wedge" issues and it is, therefore, not uncommon to hear social conservatives, paleoconservatives, or even Democrats refer to themselves as fiscal conservatives as well. As blasphemous as some Republicans may find them, the cold hard facts are that former President Bill Clinton spent less money than even Ronald Reagan when adjusting for inflation and removing the military budget from the equation.

Clinton, however, was the exception -- not the rule. By and large, most Democrats still believe in paying for outcomes by using public money, and their records prove it.