Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Harvard economist explains why spending cuts are better than tax increases

From Investors Business Daily, an editorial by Dr. Alberto Alesina of Harvard University, that explains which approach to reducing debt and deficits works best. Is it cutting spending and reducing regulation? Or is it continuing to borrow and spend, and raising taxes?

Let’s see what Dr. Alesina says:

The evidence speaks loud and clear: When governments reduce deficits by raising taxes, they are indeed likely to witness deep, prolonged recessions. But when governments attack deficits by cutting spending, the results are very different.

In 2011, the International Monetary Fund identified episodes from 1980 to 2005 in which 17 developed countries had aggressively reduced deficits. The IMF classified each episode as either “expenditure-based” or “tax-based,” depending on whether the government had mainly cut spending or hiked taxes.

When Carlo Favero, Francesco Giavazzi and I studied the results, it turned out that the two kinds of deficit reduction had starkly different effects: cutting spending resulted in very small, short-lived — if any — recessions, and raising taxes resulted in prolonged recessions.

[...]The obvious economic challenge to our contention is: What keeps an economy from slumping when government spending, a major component of aggregate demand, goes down? That is, if the economy doesn’t enter recession, some other component of aggregate demand must necessarily be rising to make up for the reduced government spending — and what is it? The answer: private investment.

Our research found that private-sector capital accumulation rose after the spending-cut deficit reductions, with firms investing more in productive activities — for example, buying machinery and opening new plants. After the tax-hike deficit reductions, capital accumulation dropped.

The reason may involve business confidence, which, we found, plummeted during the tax-based adjustments and rose (or at least didn’t fall) during the expenditure-based ones. When governments cut spending, they may signal that tax rates won’t have to rise in the future, thus spurring investors (and possibly consumers) to be more active.

Our findings on business confidence are consistent with the broader argument that American firms, though profitable, aren’t investing or hiring as much as they might right now because they’re uncertain about future fiscal policy, taxation and regulation.

But there’s a second reason that private investment rises when governments cut spending: the cuts are often just part of a larger reform package that includes other pro-growth measures.

In another study, Silvia Ardagna and I showed that the deficit reductions that successfully lower debt-to-GDP ratios without sparking recessions are those that combine spending reductions with such measures as deregulation, the liberalization of labor markets (including, in some cases, explicit agreement with unions for more moderate wages) and tax reforms that increase labor participation.

Let’s be clear: This body of evidence doesn’t mean that cutting government spending always leads to economic booms. Rather, it shows that spending cuts are much less costly for the economy than tax hikes and that a carefully designed deficit-reduction plan, based on spending cuts and pro-growth policies, may completely eliminate the output loss that you’d expect from such cuts. Tax-based deficit reduction, by contrast, is always recessionary.

UPDATE: George Mason University economists agree: debt is wrecking the economy and the right way to stop it is with spending cuts, not tax increases. In order to grow the economy we need a balanced approach of spending cuts and tax cuts.

Excerpt:

The United States’ high levels of debt are already contributing to slower economic growth and decreased competitiveness. These impacts will worsen if the nation’s debt-to-GDP levels continue to rise, as is currently projected.

[...]High levels of government debt undermine U.S. competitiveness in several ways, including crowding out private investment, raising costs to private businesses, and contributing to both real and perceived macroeconomic instability.

[...]Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff examine historical data from 40 countries over 200 years and find that when a nation’s gross national debt exceeds 90% of GDP, real growth was cut by one percent in mild cases and by half in the most extreme cases. This result was found in both developing and advanced economies.

Similarly, a Bank for International Settlements study finds that when government debt in OECD countries exceeds about 85% of GDP, economic growth slows.

[...]While fundamental tax reform is required to correct a host of structural inefficiencies, policymakers can quickly reduce the U.S. statutory rate of 35% to the OECD average rate of 26% or less.

That’s what research tells us. But that’s not what we are doing, because we voted for Barack Obama.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thomas Sowell opposes government intervention in the economy

Young Thomas Sowell

From Investors Business Daily.

Excerpt:

The policies of this administration make it risky to lend money, with Washington politicians coming up with one reason after another why borrowers shouldn’t have to pay it back when it is due, or perhaps not pay it all back at all. That’s called “loan modification” or various other fancy names for welshing on debts. Is it surprising that lenders have become reluctant to lend?

Private businesses have amassed record amounts of cash, which they could use to hire more people — if this administration were not generating vast amounts of uncertainty about what the costs are going to be for ObamaCare, among other unpredictable employer costs, from a government heedless or hostile toward business.

As a result, it is often cheaper or less risky for employers to work the existing employees overtime, or to hire temporary workers who are not eligible for employee benefits. But lack of money is not the problem.

Those who are true believers in the old-time Keynesian economic religion will always say that the only reason creating more money hasn’t worked is because there has not yet been enough money created. To them, if QE2 hasn’t worked, then we need QE3. And if that doesn’t work, then we will need QE4, etc.

Like most of the mistakes being made in Washington today, this dogmatic faith in government spending is something that has been tried before — and failed before.

[...]It is not politically possible for either the Federal Reserve or the Obama administration to leave the economy alone and let it recover on its own.

Both are under pressure to “do something.” If one thing doesn’t work, then they have to try something else. And if that doesn’t work, they have to come up with yet another gimmick.

All this constant experimentation by the government makes it more risky for investors to invest or employers to employ, when neither of them knows when the government’s rules of the game are going to change again. Whatever the merits or demerits of particular government policies, the uncertainty that such ever-changing policies generate can paralyze an economy today, just as it did back in the days of FDR.

Words of wisdom.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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