What did we learn from the Laffer Curve in the 1980’s? Lowering top tax rate from 70% to 28% from 1980 to 1988 and those earning over $200,000 paid 99 billion in taxes instead of 19 billion!!!!
One of my frustrating missions in life is to educate policy makers on the Laffer Curve.
This means teaching folks on the left that tax policy affects incentives to earn and report taxable income. As such, I try to explain, this means it is wrong to assume a simplistic linear relationship between tax rates and tax revenue. If you double tax rates, for instance, you won’t double tax revenue.
But it also means teaching folks on the right that it is wildly wrong to claim that “all tax cuts pay for themselves” or that “tax increases always mean less revenue.” Those results occur in rare circumstances, but the real lesson of the Laffer Curve is that some types of tax policy changes will result in changes to taxable income, and those shifts in taxable income will partially offset the impact of changes in tax rates.
However, even though both sides may need some education, it seems that the folks on the left are harder to teach – probably because the Laffer Curve is more of a threat to their core beliefs.
If you explain to a conservative politician that a goofy tax cut (such as a new loophole to help housing) won’t boost the economy and that the static revenue estimate from the bureaucrats at the Joint Committee on Taxation is probably right, they usually understand.
But liberal politicians get very agitated if you tell them that higher marginal tax rates on investors, entrepreneurs, and small business owners probably won’t generate much tax revenue because of incentives (and ability) to reduce taxable income.
To be fair, though, some folks on the left are open to real-world evidence. And this IRS data from the 1980s is particularly effective at helping them understand the high cost of class-warfare taxation.
There’s lots of data here, but pay close attention to the columns on the right and see how much income tax was collected from the rich in 1980, when the top tax rate was 70 percent, and how much was collected from the rich in 1988, when the top tax rate was 28 percent.
The key takeaway is that the IRS collected fives times as much income tax from the rich when the tax rate was far lower. This isn’t just an example of the Laffer Curve. It’s the Laffer Curve on steroids and it’s one of those rare examples of a tax cut paying for itself.
Folks on the right, however, should be careful about over-interpreting this data. There were lots of factors that presumably helped generate these results, including inflation, population growth, and some of Reagan’s other policies. So we don’t know whether the lower tax rates on the rich caused revenues to double, triple, or quadruple. Ask five economists and you’ll get nine answers.
But we do know that the rich paid much more when the tax rate was much lower.
This is an important lesson because Obama wants to run this experiment in reverse. He hasn’t proposed to push the top tax rate up to 70 percent, thank goodness, but the combined effect of his class-warfare policies would mean a substantial increase in marginal tax rates.
We don’t know the revenue-maximizing point of the Laffer Curve, but Obama seems determined to push tax rates so high that the government collects less revenue. Not that we should be surprised. During the 2008 campaign, he actually said he would like higher tax rates even if the government collected less revenue.
That’s class warfare on steroids, and it definitely belong on the list of the worst things Obama has ever said.
But I don’t care about the revenue-maximizing point of the Laffer Curve. Policy makers should set tax rates so we’re at the growth-maximizing level instead.
To broaden the understanding of the Laffer Curve, share these three videos with your friends and colleagues.
This first video explains the theory of the Laffer Curve.
President Obama c/o The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear Mr. President, I know that you receive 20,000 letters a day and that you actually read 10 of them every day. I really do respect you for trying to get a pulse on what is going on out here. The way […]
Open letter to President Obama (Part 282, How the Laffer Curve worked in the 20th century over and over again!!!)
Dan Mitchell does a great job explaining the Laffer Curve President Obama c/o The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear Mr. President, I know that you receive 20,000 letters a day and that you actually read 10 of them every day. I really do respect you for trying to get a […]
I have put up lots of cartoons from Dan Mitchell’s blog before and they have got lots of hits before. Many of them have dealt with the economy, eternal unemployment benefits, socialism, Greece, welfare state or on gun control. Today’s cartoon deals with the Laffer curve. Revenge of the Laffer Curve…Again and Again and Again March 27, 2013 […]
Class Warfare just don’t pay it seems. Why can’t we learn from other countries’ mistakes? Class Warfare Tax Policy Causes Portugal to Crash on the Laffer Curve, but Will Obama Learn from this Mistake? December 31, 2012 by Dan Mitchell Back in mid-2010, I wrote that Portugal was going to exacerbate its fiscal problems by raising […]
The Laffer Curve – Explained Uploaded by Eddie Stannard on Nov 14, 2011 This video explains the relationship between tax rates, taxable income, and tax revenue. The key lesson is that the Laffer Curve is not an all-or-nothing proposition, where we have to choose between the exaggerated claim that “all tax cuts pay for themselves” […]
I enjoyed this article below because it demonstrates that the Laffer Curve has been working for almost 100 years now when it is put to the test in the USA. I actually got to hear Arthur Laffer speak in person in 1981 and he told us in advance what was going to happen the 1980′s […]
I got to hear Arthur Laffer speak back in 1981 and he predicted what would happen in the next few years with the Reagan tax cuts and he was right with every prediction. The Laffer Curve Wreaks Havoc in the United Kingdom July 1, 2012 by Dan Mitchell Back in 2010, I excoriated the new […]
Raising taxes will not work. Liberals act like the Laffer Curve does not exist. The Laffer Curve Shows that Tax Increases Are a Very Bad Idea – even if They Generate More Tax Revenue April 10, 2012 by Dan Mitchell The Laffer Curve is a graphical representation of the relationship between tax rates, tax revenue, and […]
(This letter was emailed to White House on 11-21-11.) President Obama c/o The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear Mr. President, I know that you receive 20,000 letters a day and that you actually read 10 of them every day. I really do respect you for trying to get a pulse […]
Two Lessons from Coolidge: Small government is the best way to achieve competent and effective government and Higher tax rates don’t automatically lead to more tax revenue
Will Rogers has a great quote that I love. He noted, “Lord, the money we do spend on Government and it’s not one bit better than the government we got for one-third the money twenty years ago”(Paula McSpadden Love, The Will Rogers Book, (1972) p. 20.) Dan Mitchell praises Calvin Coolidge for keeping the federal government small. […]