Here We Go Again – More Supply-Side B.S.

Supply-Side B.S.

Donald Trump’s tax plan, unveiled Wednesday, calls for massive tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy (i.e. “small business”). He also threw a bone to the “middle class” in the form of increasing the standard deduction from $12,700 to $24,000 for a married couple.

All justified in the name of jobs and economic growth. Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has famously labelled the economic growth argument for tax cuts as “Voodoo Economics.” We think Krugman is being too kind. Our name for supply side economics can’t be printed, but the initials “B.S.” more accurately reflect our view.

As Krugman has pointed out on numerous occasions, there is no evidence that tax cuts stimulate significant economic growth. In fact, history has proven the opposite to be true: in periods when tax rates were high relative to today’s rates, economic growth was more robust than during periods of lower rates.

In the two decades after W.W. II, for example, personal income tax rates averaged more than 80% for the highest earners, and yet economic growth was robust, averaging more than 4%. In contrast, during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, personal income tax rates were slashed, but economic growth fell to 3.5% and 2.1% respectively.

Today, the top rate for personal income is 39.6% for married filers earning more than $466,950 a year, while growth is averaging an anemic 1.5%. Trump, for his part, wants to cut the top rate to 35%. The last thing we need is yet more of the failed policies of the past.

What’s wrong with the supply side theory? It sounds good, and it has popular political appeal (which is why Republicans have used the argument so successfully to justify tax cuts) but it doesn’t stand even a common sense smell test. It smells like, well, B.S.

Cutting taxes on corporations and the wealthy may stimulate marginal investment, or, just as likely, more profits will be redistributed to shareholders in the form of dividends and increased capital gains. And, oh by the way, those dividends and cap gains are taxed at a top rate of 20% – a much lower rate than ordinary income, a double bonanza for the rich.

To make matters worse, Trump has proposed eliminating the “estate tax” on accumulated wealth (currently levied on estates valued at over $5.45 million for an individual and $10.9 million for a married couple). Triple bonanza!

“Supply side” economics is simply code language for redistributing income to the wealthy, including Donald Trump and most of his appointees.

If you really want to stimulate the economy, you should invest for growth – in job training and education; in infrastructure including clean power, roads, bridges, mass transit and high speed rail, the things that actually make our economy run. That is what we did in the period after W.W. II, when we educated veterans on the GI bill and built the interstate highway system, among other initiatives, and it worked.

To fund this investment without blowing up the deficit, yes, we would have to raise taxes. But maybe it is past time raise the rates on “unearned” income, such as dividends and cap gains, so the wealthy actually pay their fair share.

The Big Picture of U.S. Economy – It’s Ugly

Economic Growth Rates

Last week, the unemployment report came out for July.  The U.S. added 255,000 jobs, more than economists had forecast, and suddenly the economy is doing great, everything is back on track, and the Federal Reserve is likely to raise interest rates later this year.

If you follow the economy through the daily media or the gyrations of the stock market, you are likely suffering from whiplash.  Up one day; down the next.  We’re in a recovery; no, we teetering on the brink on recession.  Ouch, my neck hurts.

Sometimes, it is useful to take a step back, look at the big picture.  But if you do that, be prepared.  You might wind up with more than just a crick in your neck; you are more likely to experience pain deep in your gut.

As shown in the accompanying graph, economic growth in the U.S. has averaged just about 2% in the last decade and a half.  That’s down from more than 3% in the 1970’s through the 1990’s and more than 4% in the 50’s and 60’s.  The latest figures for the first seven months of 2016 have the economy growing  just 1% year over year; optimistically, the very best we are likely to do is 1.5% to 2%  in 2016.

Many Democratic politicians, President Obama included, would have you believe everything is fine, even as they reluctantly acknowledge that perhaps wage stagnation for the vast majority of Americans is a problem.  Well … yea.

Republicans, meanwhile, continue to spew supply side propaganda while pretending it bears some relation to real economics.  Donald Trump touted his “economic plan” (sic), released earlier this week, as tax reductions for “middle income” taxpayers.  Not surprisingly, that statement is misleading at best.  Trump’s proposed tax cuts mirror those of House Republicans and are heavily skewed in favor of wealthy taxpayers, as TDV documented in the July 8 fact sheet, “Under Republican Tax Proposals, the Rich Get Richer.”

Why the long-term economic slowdown with wage stagnation as its core?  The answer is obviously complex.  Economists and talking heads debate whether the cause is increased international competition, bad trade deals, a decline in worker bargaining rights, loss of manufacturing, slackening consumer demand, automation of the workplace, or all of the above.

Well, all of those factors no doubt contribute to the economic malaise the U.S. finds itself in today.  But there may be an overarching cause that very few really talk about – political dysfunction.

That is not just something that happened in the past.  Now and in the future, political dysfunction and outright mismanagement of the economy continue to pose a threat to the security of all Americans.

Economic policy has two major components – fiscal and monetary.  Largely due to the dysfunction of the U.S. Congress, one of those, fiscal policy, is virtually non-existent.  It is not just that Congress can’t pass a budget.  Essentially there is no coherent fiscal policy; no guiding principles by which to foster growth and prosperity, and our economy as a result is at serious risk.

It’s a big problem. It not getting near enough attention.  It needs to be talked about more, and it needs to be fixed.

More about the faltering U.S. economy and what can be done to fix it, including monetary policy, in upcoming articles in TDV’s four-part series: “Fix the Economic Stupid.”