Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Bush Tax Cuts Worked.

The ”Bush tax cuts on the rich” are generally viewed as a “failure”. If the criterion is that the tax cuts would have saved the economy from financial meltdown, that is certainly true. Of course it is absurd to think that cutting taxes by 3-5 percentage points would prevent a gigantic financial meltdown.

Another question is if the tax cuts were entirely self-financing, so that cutting taxes would completely pay for itself. This did not happen, nor should we have expected it to given what we know about short-medium run responsiveness of the tax base to tax rates.

However, this requirement is also too extreme. I think the important question is if tax cuts stimulate growth by a reasonable amount. For tax cuts to be completely self-financing, they have to stimulate growth enourmosly. This only happens either if the responsiveness to taxes is very high (in fact it seems to be moderately high) or if tax rates are extremly high (which they are not in the US.). But what if tax cuts in the American setting stimulates growth by a good deal, but not enough to be self-financing? Should we throw away a useful tool just because it is not Voodoo?

The detractors of the tax cuts seem to be going to the other extreme, arguing that the Bush tax cuts had no effect at all on growth, and that they were not at all self-financing, and therefore that supply-side economics is totally wrong.

But remember that actual supply side economics claims that tax cuts stimulate growth. It is only vulgar or straw-man supply side economics that claim that tax cuts always stimulate growth by the extreme amounts required for tax cuts to be 100% (or more) self financing.

Here research comes in. Economists have in fact studied the effects of the “Bush tax cuts for the rich” on the tax base. The answer is that they did stimulate the economy, and were partially self-financing, about 40% self-financing to be exact. That is a pretty good deal: for each $0.6 dollars that the government loses in revenue the private sector gains $1 dollars.

The paper “The 2001 and 2003 Tax Rate Reductions: An Overview and Estimate of the Taxable Income Response” By Gerald Auten, Robert Carroll and Geoffrey Gee in the National Tax journal in 2008 calculates the responsiveness of income on tax rates, and finds that also in this case did people whose tax rates go down increase their taxable income (their standard estimate of the elasticity of taxable income if 0.4 in this period, in line with the literature). Regarding the tax cuts for the rich, they find that:

“Overall, the increase in taxable income translates into higher revenues that offset about 39 percent of the static revenue loss associated with the reduction in the top two tax rates.”


Empirical evidence suggests that Supply side economics worked as predicted in theory, also regarding the Bush tax cuts.

7 comments:

  1. But what about bush nets zero job growth?
    http://current.com/items/91817608_thanks-bush-voters-2000-2010-nets-zero-job-growth.htm

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  2. 2000 was the top of a bubble, 2010 the bottom of another.

    At any case the discussion is not Bush and his legacy, it is tax cuts and their specific and isolated effect.

    ReplyDelete
  3. But Nero is correct: Bush created practically no jobs under his watch; this is in sharp contrast to Clinton, who, under his watch, saw about 23 million jobs created (http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2009/01/09/bush-on-jobs-the-worst-track-record-on-record/tab/article/) - and this occurred in a decade in which taxes on the wealthiest were boosted a bit.

    Considering America is still in a terrible recession (even though technically it's over), it's unemployment is high (the real, not official rate is around 17%) and that the US is likely going to have another jobless recovery, I have to say I disagree with you.

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  4. And the loss of wellbeing due to the decrease of public spending? Should that not count in the assessment of the tax cuts because it is not as easily measured? This post just reveals economists' myopia.

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  5. So at what point do we say cutting taxes is a bad deal? What exactly are the numerical parameters of the Laffer curve? When is it better to pay the bills for your cronies' overpriced weapons systems and worthless pharmaceuticals with tax money from rich financial industry parasites (that would have mostly been malinvested and lost feeding another bubble anyway) rather than kiting some more bonds and inflating the currency?

    Or maybe we should do something really radical like not buying the weapons, closing the overseas bases, canceling the contracts of most of the government's camp-followers, seizing an equity stake in the banks we bailed out equal to the portion of their value the money would have bought when they extorted it from us, then breaking them up and reintroducing Glass-Stegall; taking the insurance and pharma cartels to the woodshed, eliminating the carried-interest tax loophole and going back to the tax rates of Reagan, or maybe even Eisenhower, breaking up DHS, prosecuting the torturers, impeaching the SC justices that put an unelected president in office and rubber-stamped every evil thing he did, returning to the rule of law and the constitution....

    Nah, let's invest in hookers and blow for the congresscritters, and keep on as we have - it's a more prudent investment, guaranteed returns - we've got CDSs on the CDOs and the underwriters say its AAA. Nothing can go wrong with this deal. Trust me.

    ReplyDelete
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  7. One of the effects of cutting taxes for the richest is greater income inequality. Has this affected the value of products and service ? If it has how will that affect the poorest in the country ?

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