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Posts Tagged ‘Arthur Laffer’

Aristotle, the Pope, and Income Inequality

Thu ,02/01/2014

 

Aristotle, when comparing forms of government, pointed out some of the problems in a democracy. When the poor gain too much power, they will enrich themselves out of the public treasury and the nation will become poor. If the wealthy gain too much power, then the nation will become an oligarchy and the poor will suffer. Oligarchs insist that citizens be treated differently based on wealth, and they argue that wealth is a sign of virtue and merit, and that the poor are poor because they lack those qualities.  Aristotle concluded that: “A large middle class is absolutely essential for a stable and well-run government because the middle class do not covet rule, are not envious, foster friendship because of their similarity, and can act as neutral arbitrators between the rich and the poor.” –  Aristotle’s Politics

There is ample evidence that the middle class in United States has declined sharply, while the country has moved toward oligarchy, allowing the wealthy to enrich themselves at the expense of the middle class, the poor, and also the nation. The chart below shows how the income is now divided in the United States, with the top 1% owning 38% of the wealth and the top 20% owning 82% of the wealth. Not only is the distribution of wealth much worse than what people consider ideal, it is even much worse than what they think it is.

Wealth in Amer 2

According to Senator Bernie Sanders:

“While the very rich get richer, the middle class continues to disappear and we now have more people living in poverty than ever before.  Despite huge increases in technology and productivity, tens of millions of workers are finding it harder to feed their families, pay for health care, send their kids to college or put aside savings for retirement.” In recent years,  95% of all new income has gone  to the top 1%, we have seen a huge increase in the number of millionaires and billionaires. While the average American is increasingly unrepresented in  the political process, the very wealthy are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to justify their wealth and to convince voters to elect candidates who will further their interests.”

The  wealthy consider the money an investment which has paid off handsomely. It has bought tax breaks, loopholes, and subsidies. Many wealthy Americans are even reaping the lions share of many federal programs that were intended to help the poor and disadvantaged. 

Trickle Down economics  is behind the redistribution of wealth that began during the 1980’s, as shown in the chart at the right. Super rich incomeWhen President Reagan came into office in 1980 the top tax rate was 60%, a rate which the wealthy thought was much too high. Arthur Laffer developed the supply side arguments that led to taxes being cut using the Laffer Curve . Mr. Laffer convinced the Reagan Administration that lowering the tax rate would give the job creators more money to invest, which would stimulate the economy and lead to greater tax revenue. Reagan cut the top tax rate to 28%, which put more money in the hands of the wealthy, but little of it trickled down. The economy grew at 3.5%, a lower growth rate than when tax rates were higher, the wealthy got wealthier,  and the national debt almost tripled. The graph at the right shows a narrowing of the income gap when the Clinton administration raised taxes and a widening gap after the 2003 tax cuts.  

Following Laffer’s trickle down theory put the U.S. on a slow spiral into debt,  austerity, and income inequality. Tax rates are now clearly too low  and, according to the Laffer curve, raising taxes should stimulate the economy. Certainly, raising taxes sufficiently would end our national debt problems and the shameless practice of using the national debt for political purposes. However, Congress thinks the problem is that we have not cut taxes enough, and Paul Ryan has proposed a Congressional budget that would further decrease tax rates. Paul Ryan has proposed  reducing the top tax rate to 25%. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated Ryan’s budget would add $5.7 trillion to the deficit over the next decade and would increase the after-tax income of the top 1% of citizens by 18%.  His budget is a case of ideology trumping practical economics.

 Jobs: Congressman Ryan is still working under the assumption that trickle down economics works, and he argues that further tax cuts would create jobs. That argument is discredited by Nick Hanauer, a billionaire who has helped start many companies. He explained on Ted.com that the rich aren’t the job creators, as job creation now comes from demand, and the demand would come from a large  numbers of middle class consumers, a person making 1000 times as much as the average citizen does not buy 1000 times as much stuff. When someone calls themselves “job creators”‘, they are making a claim as Aristotle pointed out, on their virtue – the status and privileges they think they deserve.  Mr. Hanauer says the 15% taxes that capitalists pay on interest, dividends, and capitol gains and the 35% the ordinary citizen pays on their job earnings is hard to justify. He points out that of the inequality has been justified by the fallacy that ” as taxes on the rich go up, job creation will go down”. His data shows the opposite to be true. Tax vsjobsHe concludes that demand grows the economy, and taxing the rich to pay for investments that benefit all is the best thing we can do for the middle class, the poor, and for the rich as well.

The Pope recently spoke about the problem of economic inequality as it is worldwide. Many countries are in debt because of policies that favor the rich, and the remedy is too often austerity programs that hurt the poor. In his recently published Exhortation, Pope Francis warns the world against the idolatry of money and the false promise of trickle-down economics.
“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about great­er justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

 “While the earnings of a minority are grow­ing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ide­ologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.”” Con­sequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.  To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide di­mensions. ” In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of in­creased profits, whatever is fragile, like the envi­ronment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.” – Pope Francis

The IMF: Clearly, there are both sound economic and moral reasons that countries need to act for the common good by correcting income inequality. While the Pope acts to change hearts, the countries’ leaders need to act to make fairer economic policies, raise taxes, and cut out loopholes. The Guardian of financial orthodoxy, the International Monetary Fund, typically calls for nations in difficulty to slash public spending to reduce their deficits. But in this year’s Fiscal Monitor report, subtitled “Taxing Times”, the Fund advanced the idea of “taxing the highest-income people and their assets to reinforce the legitimacy of spending cuts and the fight against growing income inequalities.” There is both a moral and an economic imperative to do so.

(c) 2014 J.C. Moore

 

Laffer Economics: The Long Spiral into Debt

Wed ,28/08/2013

The Laffer Curve: Laffer economics, or supply side economics, is based on the idea that cutting taxes will provide more money for investments and job creation. That in turn should increase economic growth, resulting in an increase in tax revenue. That has not worked well in practice.

The idea was not new to Arthur  Laffer, but he used it to greatly shape the United  States’ economic policies during the Reagan Administration and to this day.  Laffer used the curve  below to argue his case:

LafferIt is based on the idea that at a zero tax rates, the government collects no taxes – and at a 100% tax rate,  the economy would collapse, resulting in zero tax collected.  If taxes are too high, then cutting them will cause a move to the left on the curve, toward higher tax revenue. The top tax rate when Reagan came into office was 60%.  Laffer used his curve to convince the Reagan Administration that lowering the tax rate would move the country to the left on the curve, stimulating the economy, and increasing tax revenue.  Did it work?

Empirical data: Laffer, and those favoring  supply-side economics, often point to the 3.5%  growth in GDP during the Reagan years as validating their theories. However, the GDP growth was less under Reagan and George W. Bush, when tax rates were low, than under administrations where the tax rates were higher.  The table below compares economic indicators among administrations:

President Top Tax Rate  GDP Growth  Job Growth    Public Debt
D. Eisenhower 90% 4% 7.20%      +14.9% GDP
Ronald Regan 28% 3.50% 16.40%        +7.1% GDP
Bill Clinton 39.60% 3.90% 19.60%       -13.6% GDP
George W. Bush 35% 2.50% 1.40%        +5.6% GDP
Source Historical CBO Records Bureau of Labor        CBO

Laffer was certainly wrong about tax cuts leading to GDP growth and increasing tax revenue. Certainly, the public debt grew substantially when taxes were lower. Public debt was high during Eisenhower’s administration because of war debts and because he built the interstate highway system that accelerated economic growth under following administrations.

What went wrong?   Basing economic decisions on Laffer’s theory involves accepting the assumption that tax rates are the main factor driving economic growth, an assumption not borne out by the empirical evidence. Also, Laffer did not present evidence showing that the maximum in his curve was at 50% . Some economists argue that the curve should  actually look like this :

Laffer2

If that is the case,  cutting the tax rate from 60%  would not necessarily stimulate the economy, but certainly would decrease tax revenue, as happened.  Taxes need not be as high as the optimum rate,  but they should be high enough to pay the country’s debts .

Recent tax cuts: Despite its failures, Congress is still trying to justify tax cuts using Laffer’s Theory. A recent survey of 40 economists found that not one agreed with Mr. Laffer that reducing the top tax rate would lead to economic growth over the next five years. A University of Chicago poll  taken in 2012 found that of 40 leading economists, not one agreed with the statement: ”  A cut in federal income tax rates in the US right now would raise taxable income enough so that the annual total tax revenue would be higher within five years than without the tax cut. ”  The results of the survey is listed below:

Laffer survey

  Still, Paul Ryan has proposed  a budget that would reduce the top tax rate to 25%. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated Ryan’s budget would add $5.7 trillion to the deficit over the next decade and would increase the after-tax income of the top 1% of citizens by 18%.  His budget is a case of ideology trumping practical economics.

 State tax cuts: Arthur Laffer now sits on the Board of Directors of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  One of  ALEC’s  goals  is to pass laws at the state level which allow wealthy citizens and corporations to avoid regulation and taxes.  Laffer’s research has been used by members of ALEC to try to justify state tax cuts by claiming  that the nine states that have no income tax had the highest rates of job creation, as shown in his chart below:

 

Laffer5

 It looks impressive, but most of the growth was in Texas and in a carefully chosen time period when job growth was strong because of oil revenues and population growth.  Besides carefully picking his data, Laffer also ignored other economic indicators – and didn’t do a comparison with high tax states. If Laffer were correct, the nine States  with the highest income taxes should have failing economies. However, that is not the case, as shown below:

 

Laffer hgh

  The nine states with high income taxes had higher economic growth , a much smaller decline in household income, and almost exactly the same unemployment rate. Laffer’s research was biased and would never stand up to peer review, yet many states have used it as a justification for income tax cuts for the wealthy.

 Summary: Laffer’s theories are highly popular with the wealthy who want to lower  their income taxes, and with those who want to reduce the size of the Federal government.  While Arthur Laffer may be charismatic, his theories are not borne out by empirical evidence and we should not make economic decisions based upon his theories or his articles. While money may trickle down, it flows upward and pools at the top.  Cutting top tax rates has led to a more regressive tax structure, shifting more of the tax burden to sales taxes, property taxes and a myriad of government fees. Following Laffer’s economics has led to a great disparity in wealth in United States and a crushing national debt.  Arthur Laffer’s legacy is not economic growth, but a long spiral downward into debt and austerity and a tremendous increase in the number of poor Americans. Forbes put it best a couple of years ago – “Economist Arthur Laffer has had a long, distinguished career. Unfortunately one of the things that has distinguished it is that he has often been extremely wrong.”