Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The San Antonio Express-News Printed My Op-Ed On Taxes And Spending

It was in today's paper. Here is the link: Cut government spending to boost economy. Here is the article in case the link does not last very long.

Re: “Laffer Curve a tool to help avoid fiscal cliff,” Other Views, Dec. 10:

Mickey Roth, the president of Intercontinental Asset Management, seems to think we need higher tax rates. I disagree.

He correctly explained the Laffer Curve, which relates tax revenue and tax rates. His reading of the historical record leads him to say the high tax revenue and budget surpluses of the late 1990s were due to raising the top tax rate to 39.6 percent in 1993.

We must realize that maximizing the federal tax revenue is not an official policy goal. The goals are low unemployment, low inflation and high GDP growth. Now if tax revenue is spent wisely on things like education and infrastructure, it can help the economy grow. But this is not always the case.

Higher tax rates hurt economic incentives. Investment decisions are made at the margin, based on after tax income.

As tax rates rise, some investments are no longer viable. Less investment, less growth. A slight change makes a big difference in the long run. For example, in 2010, liberal economist Paul Krugman mentioned that the per capita GDP since 1980 had grown 1.95 percent annually in the U.S. and 1.83 percent in the European Union, hinting that their higher tax rates were not a problem. But, if per capita income was $20,000 in both the U.S. and the E.U. in 1980, the per capita income now would be $1,372 higher in the U.S. at those annual growth rates. After 100 years, the U.S. income level would be 12 percent higher.

The harm taxes do to economic efficiency is called “deadweight loss.” It grows exponentially; more harm is done in raising rates from 35 to 40 percent than in raising rates from 30 to 35 percent. If the Bush tax cuts expire, some Americans in states like New York (which has its own income tax) will pay marginal tax rates of over 50 percent, if you include additional taxes to pay for Obamacare.

Roth says we should take a lesson from the 1990s. But in 1997 President Clinton agreed to cut the capital gains tax to 20 percent It is possible that the high tax revenue of the late 1990s was due to a fast growing economy which in turn was caused by the high tech boom and low oil prices.

Economist Alan Reynolds has said, “The unexpected revenue windfalls in President Bill Clinton's second term were largely a consequence of lower tax rates on capital gains.”

William McBride of the Tax Foundation found in a survey of studies that “lower-tax economies are more productive and that raising taxes has negative dynamic effects on revenue collection.”

Spending may be a bigger issue than tax revenue (Roth did call for less spending). As former World Bank Group president Robert Zoellick recently said, “Federal spending has traditionally been about 18-19 percent of the U.S. economy. It has now surged to 23-24 percent.”

Leszek Balcerowicz, the former central banker of Poland, says that countries grow rapidly out of recessions when they cut spending since this increases confidence in markets. Let's give that a try.

Cyril Morong, Ph.D., is an associated professor of economics at San Antonio College.

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