Avtor republikanskega davčnega mita: Zniževanje davkov ne pospešuje rasti

Heh, Bruce Bartlett, svetovalec Ronalda Reagana, co-mastermind Reaganove davčne reforme in so-avtor republikanskega davčnega mita (drugi “zaslužen je še Arthur Laffer – avtor “Lafferjeve krivulje”), je ujel svoj trenutek intelektualne poštenosti. V današnjem komentarju v Washington Postu pravi, da gre pri trditvi, da zniževanje davkov povečuje rast, le za mit. Za republikanski davčni mit, ki je sicer prodrl v učbenike ekonomije.

Bartlett pravi, da Reaganova davčna reforma, ki je znižala najvišjo mejno davčno stopnjo na samo 28%, ni imela nekega pomembnega učinka na rast, bolj pomembni dejavniki rasti so bili prepolovitev Fedove obrestne mere ter keynesianska ukrepa vlaganj v cestno infrastrukturo in oboroževanje. Še več, ko primerja stopnje skupne gospodarske rasti po desetletjih, Bartlett pokaže, da je bila kumulativna gospodarska rast v Reaganovih 1980-ih nižja od tiste v 1970-ih, ko so bili davki ekstremno visoki. In gospodarska rast v Clintonovih 1990-ih, ko je močno zvišal davke, je bila višja tako od tiste v Reaganovih časih kot tiste v času Busha mlajšega, ki je ponovno drastično znižal davke bogatim. In enako velja za Obamino obdobje, ko je ob (kljub ali zaradi?) zvišanju davkov dosegal višjo rast od predhodnika. (Nasploh je gospodarska rast višja v mandatih (bolj socialnih) demokratskih predsednikov, kar je zanimivo, mar ne?) Torej bi prej lahko veljal anti-davčni mit, torej da višji davki pospešujejo rast (čeprav ne za prvega in ne za drugega ni empirične podpore).

In še nekaj, Bartlett razkriva še nekaj pozabljenih dejstev iz glorificiranih, mitoloških Reaganovih časov. Denimo, da je Reaganova davčna reforma navrtala veliko luknjo v proračun, zaradi česa je Reagan v drugem mandatu spet povišal davke, da bi pokril približno polovico proračunske luknje, ki jo pridelal s predhodnim zniževanjem davkov. Ah, ta nori svet. In ta klinčeva ideologija.

Four decades ago, while working for Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), I had a hand in creating the Republican tax myth. Of course, it didn’t seem like a myth at that time — taxes were rising rapidly because of inflation and bracket creep, the top tax rate was 70 percent and the economy seemed trapped in stagflation with no way out. Tax cuts, at that time, were an appropriate remedy for the economy’s ills. By the time Ronald Reagan was president, Republican tax gospel went something like this:

  • The tax system has an enormously powerful effect on economic growth and employment.
  • High taxes and tax rates were largely responsible for stagflation in the 1970s.
  • Reagan’s 1981 tax cut, which was based a bill, co-sponsored by Kemp and Sen. William Roth (R-Del.), that I helped design, unleashed the American economy and led to an abundance of growth.

Based on this logic, tax cuts became the GOP’s go-to solution for nearly every economic problem. Extravagant claims are made for any proposed tax cut. Wednesday, President Trump argued that “our country and our economy cannot take off” without the kind of tax reform he proposes. Last week, Republican economist Arthur Laffer said, “If you cut that [corporate] tax rate to 15 percent, it will pay for itself many times over. … This will bring in probably $1.5 trillion net by itself.”

That’s wishful thinking. So is most Republican rhetoric around tax cutting. In reality, there’s no evidence that a tax cut now would spur growth.

The Reagan tax cut did have a positive effect on the economy, but the prosperity of the ’80s is overrated in the Republican mind. In fact, aggregate real gross domestic product growth was higher in the ’70s — 37.2 percent vs. 35.9 percent.

Moreover, GOP tax mythology usually leaves out other factors that also contributed to growth in the 1980s: First was the sharp reduction in interest rates by the Federal Reserve. The fed funds rate fell by more than half, from about 19 percent in July 1981 to about 9 percent in November 1982. Second, Reagan’s defense buildup and highway construction programs greatly increased the federal government’s purchases of goods and services. This is textbook Keynesian economics.

Finally, I’m not sure how many Republicans even know anymore that Reagan raised taxes several times after 1981. His last budget showed that as of 1988, the aggregate, cumulative revenue loss from the 1981 tax cut was $264 billion and legislated tax increases brought about half of that back.

But there is no evidence showing a boost in growth from the 1986 act. The economy remained on the same track, with huge stock market crashes — 1987’s “Black Monday,” 1989’s Friday the 13th “mini-crash” and a recession beginning in 1990. Real wages fell.

Strenuous efforts by economists to find any growth effect from the 1986 act have failed to find much. The most thorough analysis, by economists Alan Auerbach and Joel Slemrod, found only a shifting of income due to tax reform, no growth effects: “The aggregate values of labor supply and saving apparently responded very little,” they concluded.

The flip-side of tax cut mythology is the notion that tax increases are an economic disaster — the reason, in theory, every Republican in Congress voted against the tax increase proposed by Bill Clinton in 1993. Yet the 1990s was the most prosperous decade in recent memory. At 37.3 percent, aggregate real GDP growth in the 1990s exceeded that in the 1980s.

Despite huge tax cuts almost annually during the George W. Bush administration that cost the Treasury trillions in revenue, according to the Congressional Budget Office, growth collapsed in the first decade of the 2000s. Real GDP rose just 19.5 percent, well below its ’90s rate.

We saw another test of the Republican tax myth in 2013, after President Barack Obama allowed some of the Bush tax cuts to expire, raising the top income tax rate to its current 39.6 percent from 35 percent. The economy grew nicely afterward and the stock market has boomed — up around 10,000 points over the past five years.

There are good arguments for a proper tax reform even if it won’t raise GDP growth. It may improve economic efficiency, administration and fairness. But getting from here to there requires heavy lifting that this Republican Congress has yet to demonstrate. If they again look for a quick, easy victory, they risk a replay of the Obamacare repeal fight that wasted so much time and yielded so little.

Vir: Bruce Bartlett, Washington Post

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