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.

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The long-term impacts of the Romney and Obama economic plans

From the Tax Foundation. (H/T Tom)

Excerpt:

Over the past several weeks, Tax Foundation economists have published a series of studies that analyze the long-term economic and distributional effects of the tax plans outlined by President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. These comprehensive assessments were done using the Tax Foundation’s Tax Simulation and Macroeconomic Model, which measures how changes in tax policies affect the economic levers that determine economic growth, workers’ incomes and the distribution of the tax burden, says the Tax Foundation.

The candidates’ tax plans would have a starkly different impact on the economy.

  • The Romney plan, which would reduce tax rates on individuals and corporations, would increase gross domestic product (GDP) 7.4 percent over the long run.
  • The Obama plan, which would raise tax rates on individuals, would reduce GDP 2.9 percent over the long run.

These very different futures are the direct consequence of the candidates’ very different approaches to taxing the inputs of production, i.e., capital and labor.

  • Obama would raise taxes on investors, which would reduce the capital stock by 7.5 percent.
  • Romney would reduce taxes on investors, which would increase the capital stock by 18.6 percent.
  • Obama would raise taxes on labor, which would reduce the wage rate by 2.3 percent and hours worked by 0.7 percent.
  • Romney would reduce taxes on labor, which would increase the wage rate by 4.7 percent and hours worked by 2.9 percent.

[...]Tax Foundation’s analysis indicates that for every dollar of tax revenue raised under the Obama plan, the economy loses $10. Under Romney’s plan, for every dollar of tax revenue lost, the economy gains $8.

And more from the Tax Foundation. (H/T Tom)

As a follow-up to the Tax Foundation’s recent assessment of the macroeconomic effects of Governor Mitt Romney’s tax plan, Tax Foundation Senior Fellow Stephen Entin now turns his attention to measuring the macroeconomic effects of President Barack Obama’s tax proposals.

[...]The model results:

  • President Obama’s tax plan would gradually reduce the level of gross domestic product (GDP) by nearly 3 percent, relative to the baseline projection, over five to 10 years.
  • Labor income would be lower by a similar amount, driven down by fewer hours worked and lower wages per hour.
  • The reduction in hours worked, about 0.75 percent, would be the equivalent of about a million jobs lost in today’s economy, with those still employed earning roughly 2.28 percent lower wages.
  • Alternatively, one could view the result as losing four million jobs at unchanged pay levels.
  • The plan would also trim the capital stock by about 7.5 percent (or over $2 trillion in lost investment in plant, equipment and buildings, things that drive productivity, wages and hiring).

The study also measured the economic and distributional effects of President Obama’s corporate tax plan and the tax changes contained in the Affordable Care Act beginning in 2013. The results found that these proposals would lower economic growth while substantially lowering workers’ wages and incomes. Ultimately, President Obama’s tax plans would be very harmful for the nation’s long-term economic outlook.

Do you like prosperity? Would you like to have a job? Would you like to be able to buy things for your friends and family? Would like to be able to give to charities? Then vote for Mitt Romney!

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Does spending more money on public schools produce better students?

Luis Woodhill in Forbes magazine.

Excerpt:

Accordingly, the “investment in education” that Obama wants more (and more, and more) of is actually “federal-government-directed investment in education”. When considering whether we really want more of this, it is important to remember that it was “federal-government-directed investment in energy” that gave us Solyndra, Ener1, and Beacon Power, and that it was “federal-government-directed investment in housing” that has cost taxpayers more than $150 billion in losses (thus far) at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

So, how would we know if increased government “investment” in education was producing a return? We would see a steady rise in the ratio of GDP to “nonresidential produced assets” over time. Our GDP is produced by a combination of physical capital and human capital. Accordingly, if the economic value of our human capital were rising, the impact would show up in the numbers as increasing productivity of physical capital.

Now, here is the bad news. While total real ($2010) government spending on education increased almost 13-fold from 1951 to 2009, the measured GDP return on physical capital actually declined slightly, from 47.7% to 44.1%. This could not have happened if we were getting an appreciable economic return on our huge “investment” in education.

What follows is a “first approximation analysis”. The numbers could be done with more precision, but they are good enough to give us an idea of what the nation has been getting (actually, not getting) for its massive “investments” in education.

Assuming that about 25% of our total population is in school at any one time, average real (2010 dollars) government spending per student rose from $1,763 in 1951 to $12,209 in 2009. This is an increase of about 7 times. Assuming an average of 13 years of education per student (some go to college, some drop out of high school), this means that during this 58-year time period, we increased our real “investment” in the human capital represented by each student from $22,913 to $158,717.

Meanwhile, we have also been investing more in physical capital. Real nonresidential produced assets per worker increased from $79,278 in 1951 to $206,717 in 2009. So, each worker in 2009 had $127,439 more in physical capital and $135,804 more in educational “capital” to work with than he did in 1951.

Unfortunately, it is clear from the numbers that GDP tracks only physical assets, and not the sum of physical assets and educational “assets”. Excluding the GDP produced by the housing stock, the ratio of GDP to nonresidential produced assets has been essentially constant over the 59 years 1951–2009 (it has oscillated with the business cycle around a midpoint of 48.2%).

So, it appears that our massive “investments” in education have produced no measurable economic return. Should we be surprised by this? No. Average scores on standardized tests have not risen, despite the fact that we are “investing” seven times as much in real terms in each student than we did six decades ago. So, even by the measures used by the educational establishment, it is clear that the higher spending has not created any additional human capital.

The nation and its people would be much better off today if most of the additional “investment” in education that we have made over the past six decades had been used to create more nonresidential produced assets. GDP, real wages, and our standard of living would all be considerably higher.

Also, imagine if, instead of being given a 2009 education for $158,717, an average student were given a 1967-style education for about $58,000, and $100,000 in capital with which to start his working life. This would be sufficient to start any number of small businesses. Alternatively, if put in an IRA earning a real return of 6%, the $100,000 would grow to about $1.8 million over 50 years.

The huge government “investments” made in education over the past 50 years have produced little more than “Solyndras in the classroom”. They have enriched teachers unions and other rent-seekers, but have added little or nothing to the economic prospects of students. America does not need more such “investment”.

There is no reason to believe that having government spend our money will produce a better return than letting us keep our money and then letting us spending it on schools that actually perform.

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

New paper on income inequality: Does taxing the rich hurt the middle class?

Aparna Mathur (right)

Aparna Mathur (right)

Here’s an article by Indian economist Aparna Mathur.

She writes (in part):

In a recent paper that I co-authored with Kevin Hassett, we explored the effect of high corporate taxes on worker wages. The motivation for the paper came from the international tax literature (summarized by Roger Gordon and Jim Hines in a 2002 paper1) that suggested that mobile capital flows from high tax to low tax jurisdictions. In other words, in any set of competing countries, investment flows are determined by relative rates of taxation. The current U.S. headline rate of corporate tax is 35 percent. The combined federal and state statutory rate of 39 percent is second only to Japan in the OECD. With Japan set to lower its statutory rate later this year, the U.S. rate will soon be the highest in the OECD and one of the highest in the world. What effect do these high rates have on worker wages?

When capital flows out of a high tax country, such as the United States, it leads to lower domestic investment, as firms decide against adding a new machine or building a factory. The lower levels of investment affect the productivity of the American worker, because they may not have the best machines or enough machines to work with. This leads to lower wages, as there is a tight link between workers’ productivity and their pay. It could also lead to less demand for workers, since the firms have decided to carry out investment activities elsewhere.

Our paper was one of the first to explore the adverse effect of corporate taxes on worker wages. Using data on more than 100 countries, we found that higher corporate taxes lead to lower wages. In fact, workers shoulder a much larger share of the corporate tax burden (more than 100 percent) than had previously been assumed. The reason the incidence can be higher than 100 percent is neatly explained in a 2006 paper by the famous economist Arnold Harberger.2 Simply put, when taxes are imposed on a corporation, wages are lowered not only for the workers in that firm, but for all workers in the economy since otherwise competition would drive workers away from the low-wage firms. As a result, a $1 corporate income tax on a firm could lead to a $1 loss in wages for workers in that firm, but could also lead to more than a $1 loss overall when we look at the lower wages across all workers.

Following our paper, several academic economists substantiated our results, using different data sets and applying varied econometric modeling and techniques. Some examples of these studies include a 2007 paper by Mihir A. Desai and C. Fritz Foley of Harvard Business School and James Hines Jr. of Michigan University Law School, a 2007 paper by R. Alison Felix of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, a 2009 paper by Robert Carroll of The Tax Foundation, and a 2010 paper by Wiji Arulampalam of the University of Warwick and Michael Devereux and Giorgia Maffini of Oxford.3 A recent Tax Notes article that I co-authored summarizes these various studies and also the lessons from the theoretical literature on the topic. The general consensus from theory and empirical work is that while we may argue academically about the size of the effect, there is no disagreement among economists that a sizeable burden of the corporate income tax is disproportionately felt by working Americans. On average, a $1 increase in corporate tax revenues could lead to a dollar or more decline in the wage bill.

Conservatives and liberals have the same goal. We both want to help the poor. Liberals think that taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor helps, but all it does it cause the rich to move their capital and jobs elsewhere, leaving the poor poorer. Conservatives let the rich keep their money and encourage them to risk it trying to make more money by engaging in enterprises that create wealth – creating products and services from less valuable raw materials. In a socialist system, the rich get poorer, but so do the poor. In a capitalist system, the rich get very rich, but the poor also gain more wealth. That’s what happens when corporations like Apple make IPads out of junky raw materials. That’s how wealth is created – by letting people who want to make things keep more of what they earn. We all benefit from encouraging people to make new things and provide value for their neighbors.

Related articles

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Why did Nancy Pelosi not allow a vote on the Credit Card Fair Fee Act?

The San Francisco Chronicle reports on a suspicious stock deal involving Nancy Pelosi.

Excerpt:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is the subject of a report on the stock investments of members of Congress that is to air Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

[...]Kroft asked Pelosi why she and her investor husband, Paul Pelosi, bought an initial public offering of stock in Visa, the San Francisco-based credit card company, in March of 2008.

The same month, former House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., introduced the Credit Card Fair Fee Act, which would have given merchants the power to negotiate lower fees with credit card companies. The bill, hostile to the credit card industry, was passed by the committee but never brought to the floor. Pelosi was speaker at the time, and controlled which legislation came to a vote.

The Pelosis bought the Visa stock in three transactions totaling $1 million to $5 million, according to financial disclosure reports. The first was the IPO, followed by two other purchases of the stock at higher prices, Pelosi said.

It certainly seems suspicious to me. She owns millions of dollars of stock in a credit card company, and then proposed legislation to regulate that industry is not allowed a vote on the floor of the House.

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