I am moving the FRIEDMAN FRIDAY to a monthly feature on My passion has been recent years to emphasize the works of Francis Schaeffer in my apologetic efforts and most of those posts are either on Tuesdays or Thursdays.


| Jul 22, 2011 | 0 comments

The on-going debate over raising the debt ceiling has focused on many areas of disagreement between Democrats and Republicans but none bigger than the Republican determination not to raise taxes.  Many pundits credit this to the political power of Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform who have spent years collecting “No Tax Increase” pledges from Republican candidates.  Others attribute Republican intransigence on taxes to a near religious belief in supply side economics, a school of thought founded by economist Arthur Laffer and journalist Jude Wanniski in the late 1970s.

The true seeds of this attitude toward tax increases, in my view, actually go back farther and can be traced to an even nobler pedigree.  The real inspiration for this conviction comes from the late Nobel prize-winning economist, Milton Friedman.  It is only by understanding Friedman’s reasoning and his values that one can fully understand why Republican refuse to see spending cuts and tax increases as simply two sides of the same budget-balancing coin.

This was not always the Republican, or even the conservative, position.  During the 1950s, it was Democrats who advocated tax cuts to stimulate the economy and President Eisenhower who insisted “we can never justify going further into debt to give ourselves a tax cut at the expense of our children.”

In 1964, the eventual Republican nominee for president, Senator Barry Goldwater, voted against the so-called Kennedy tax cuts (actually passed after Kennedy’s assassination the previous year) because he was convinced the resulting deficits would be inflationary.  Even after losing the presidential election to President Lyndon Johnson in a landslide later that year, Goldwater predicted a Republican comeback, telling U.S. News & World Report that a no-win war in Vietnam and high inflation would prompt a backlash against the Democrats two years later (he was right on both counts).

So if Eisenhower and Goldwater represented Republican orthodoxy in the 1950s and ‘60s, what happened?  In large part, it was an intellectual revolution in conservative/libertarian thought prompted by economist Milton Friedman.  While Friedman rejected the simplistic Keynesian (and later supply-side) notion that tax cuts automatically stimulate the economy, he believed that higher taxes were bad because they led to more and bigger government, which he was convinced at best led to waste and at worse to greater government control over our economy, our lives and our freedoms.

In 1967, three year’s after the Kennedy tax cuts, the Johnson Administration was already running huge deficits thanks to the a combination of Great Society social programs and the Vietnam War.  Writing in his regular Newsweek column on August 7, 1967, Friedman expresseded his concern that this would soon lead to higher taxes, using an analysis that would become familiar to his readers over the years:

“.If we adopt such programs, does not fiscal responsibility at least call for imposing taxes to pay for them?  The answer is that postwar experience has demonstrated two things. First, that Congress will spend whatever the tax system will raise—plus a little (and recently, a lot) more.  Second, that, surprising as it seems, it has proved difficult to get taxes down once they are raised.  The special interests created by government spending have proved more potent than the general interest in tax reduction.

“If taxes are raised in order to keep down the deficit, the result is likely to be a higher norm for government spending. Deficits will again mount and the process will be repeated.”

Sure enough, a year later a 10% income tax surcharge was enacted by Congress to cut the deficit and fight inflation.  His prediction having been confirmed, Friedman returned to the subject in another Newsweek column dated July 15, 1968.  He now described a familiar pattern of how Democrats used the traditional view of fiscal conservatism to convince Republicans to help pay for the Democrats’ own profligate spending:

“The standard scenario has been that the Democrats—in the name of the New Deal, the Fair Deal, or the Great Society—push through large spending programs . . . generally against the opposition of the Republican leadership.  The spending programs not only absorb the increased tax yield generated by the ‘fiscal drag,’ they go farther and produce deficits.

“The Democrats then appeal to the Republicans’ sense of fiscal responsibility to refrain from cutting tax rates or, as in this case, to raise them.  The Republicans cooperate, thereby establishing a new higher revenue base for further spending.  The Democrats get the ‘credit’ for the spending; the Republicans, the ‘blame’ for the taxes; and you and I pay the bill.”

Fast forward seven years, when Republican President Gerald Ford was proposing a tax cut to stimulate the economy during a brief recession.  As an economist who believed monetary, not fiscal, policy was the best way to keep the economy on a stable path to growth, Friedman did not believe the proposed tax cut would have its intended stimulatory effect.  He explained why in another Newseek column on July 15, 1975 but went on to say:

“Yet I must confess that I favor tax cuts—not as a cure for recession but for a very different reason.  Our basic long-term need is to stop the explosive growth in government spending.  I am persuaded that the only effective way to do so is by cutting taxes—at any time for any excuse in any way.

“The reason is that government will spend whatever the tax system raises plus a good deal more—but not an indefinite amount more.  The most effective way to force each of us to economize is to reduce our income.  The restraint is less rigid on government, but it is there and seems to be the only one we have.

“So hail the tax cut—but let’s do it for the right reason.”

Another six years went by and now it was the newly-elected president, Ronald Reagan, who was proposing a large, multi-year tax cut to get the economy moving. At the time, he was also proposing off-setting spending cuts (which we all know didn’t happen).  Friedman wrote yet another Newsweek column dated July 27, 1981, refuting objections to the plan by liberal economists while also discounting many of the claims of supply-siders in the Reagan Administration.  Friedman still supported the tax cuts, of course, and explained why liberals were suddenly worried about deficits:

“The analysis so far treats government spending and taxes as if they were two independent entities.  They clearly are not.  We know full well that Congress will spend every penny—and more—that is yielded by taxes.  A cut in taxes will mean a cut in government spending.  And there is no other way to get a cut in spending.

“That is the real reason why the big spenders and the big inflationists of the past have suddenly been converted to fiscal conservatism and to preaching the virtues of fighting inflation.  They know that a multi-year tax cut will force multi-year spending reductions.  They hope that a one-year tax cut will quiet public agitation and allow them to revert next year to their high-spending ways.”

Taken as a whole, these excerpts from columns written for a popular magazine by a Nobel laureate economist between 1967 and 1981—44 to 30 years ago—spell out precisely the philosophy that today motivates many Republicans in and out of Congress to firmly oppose any tax increase as part of a deficit reduction or budget-balancing plan proposed by Democrats.

Like Milton Friedman, they are firmly convinced that any taxes they raise will ultimately result in increased government spending.  They believe government spending necessarily translates into more and bigger government.  They believe the federal government is already too big, threatening not just the health of the economy but their freedom and way of life as well.

One can argue with Friedman’s assumptions as well as the conclusions he draws from them.  But until those on the other side—including the President, Democratic congressional leaders and the media—understand the reasoning and motivations behind the anti-tax sentiments of Republicans from Capitol Hill to the Tea Party activists, it’s hard to imagine anything more than a temporary truce in the battle being waged over the budget.

Low State Taxes help States grow and

Just like with nations, there are many factors that determine whether a state is hindering or enabling economic growth.

But I’m very drawn to one variable, which is whether there’s a state income tax. If the answer is no, then it’s quite likely that it will enjoy better-than-average economic performance (and if a state makes the mistake of having an income tax, then a flat tax will be considerably less destructive than a so-called progressive tax).

Which explains my two main lessons for state tax policy.

Anyhow, I’ve always included Tennessee in the list of no-income-tax states, but that’s not completely accurate because (like New Hampshire) there is a tax on capital income.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the Associated Press reports that Tennessee is getting rid of this last vestige of  income taxation.

The Tennessee Legislature has passed a measure that would reduce and eventually eliminate the Hall tax on investment income. The Hall tax imposes a general levy of 6 percent on investment income, with some exceptions. Lawmakers agreed to reduce it down to 5 percent before eliminating it completely by 2022.

It’s not completely clear if the GOP Governor of the state will allow the measure to become law, so this isn’t a done deal.

That being said, it’s a very positive sign that the state legislature wants to get rid of this invidious tax, which is a punitive form of double taxation.

Advocates are right that this will make the Volunteer State more attractive to investors, entrepreneurs, and business owners.

Keep in mind that this positive step follows the recent repeal of the state’s death tax, as noted in a column for the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Following a four-year phase out, Tennessee’s inheritance tax finally expires on Jan. 1 and one advocacy group is hailing the demise of what it calls the “death tax.” “Tennessee taxpayers can finally breath a sigh of relief,” said Justin Owen, head of the free-market group, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, which successfully advocated for the taxes abolishment in 2012.

On the other hand, New York seems determined to make itself even less attractive. Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute writes for Market Watch about legislation that would make the state prohibitively unappealing for many investors.

New York, home to many investment partnerships, now wants to increase state taxes on capital gains… New York already taxes capital gains and ordinary income equally, but apparently that’s not good enough. …The New York legislators want to raise the taxes on carried interest to federal ordinary income tax rates, not just for New York residents, but for everyone all over the world who get returns from partnerships with a business connection to the Empire State. Bills in the New York State Assembly and Senate would increase taxes on profits earned by venture capital, private equity and other investment partnerships by imposing a 19% additional tax.

Diana correctly explains this would be a monumentally foolish step.

If the bill became law, New York would likely see part of its financial sector leave for other states, because many investors nationwide would become subject to taxes that were 19 percentage points higher….No one is going to pick an investment that is taxed at 43% when they could choose one that is taxed at 24%.

Interestingly, even the state’s grasping politicians recognize this reality. The legislation wouldn’t take effect until certain other states made the same mistake.

The sponsors of the legislation appear to acknowledge that by delaying the implementation of the provisions until Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts enact “legislation having an identical effect.”

Given this condition, hopefully this bad idea will never get beyond the stage of being a feel-good gesture for the hate-n-envy crowd.

But it’s always important to reinforce why it would be economically misguided since those other states are not exactly strongholds for economic liberty. This video has everything you need to know about the taxation of carried interest in particular andthis video has the key facts about capital gains taxation in general

Not let’s take a look at the big picture. Moody’s just released a “stress test” to see which states were well positioned to deal with an economic downturn.

Is anybody surprised, as reported by theSacramento Bee, that low-tax Texas ranked at the top and high-tax California and Illinois were at the bottom of the heap?

California, whose state budget is highly dependent on volatile income taxes, is the least able big state to withstand a recession, according to a “stress test” conducted by Moody’s Investor Service. Arch-rival Texas, meanwhile, scores the highest on the test because of “lower revenue volatility, healthier reserves relative to a potential revenue decline scenario and greater revenue and spending flexibility,” Moody’s, a major credit rating organization, says. …California not only suffers in comparison to the other large states, but in a broader survey of the 20 most populous states. Missouri, Texas and Washington score highest, while California and Illinois are at the bottom in their ability to withstand a recession.

Of course, an ability to survive a fiscal stress test is actually a proxy for having decent policies.

And having decent policies leads to something even more important, which is faster growth, increased competitiveness, and more job creation.

Though perhaps this coyote joke does an even better job of capturing the difference between the two states.

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