Daniel Mitchell article Fiscal Policy 101 for Politicians and other Dummies

Fiscal Policy 101 for Politicians and other Dummies

Our friends on the left who want more government spendinggenerally have a short-run argument and a long-run argument.

  • In the short run, they assert that more government spending can stimulate a weak economy. This is typically known as Keynesian economics and it means temporary borrowing and spending.
  • In the long run, they claim that big government is an investment that leads to better economic performance. This is the “Nordic Model” and it means permanent increases in taxes and spending.

In many ways, the debate about short-run Keynesianism is different than the debate about the appropriate long-run size of government.

But there is one common thread, which is that proponents of more government pay too much attention to consumption and too little attention to production.

I wrote a somewhat wonky column about this topic back in April, but let’s take another look at this issue.

In a column last month for the Wall Street Journal, Andy Kessler shared some economic fundamentals.

Here’s how capitalism works—pay attention if you took the social-justice version of Econ 101. SIPPC: Save. Invest. Produce. Profit. Consume. Save means postponing consumption, money and time. Only then you can invest,especially your human capital, in something productive. Usually this means doing more with less, being efficient and effective. This is when innovation happens. Wealth comes only from productivity, not from giving away money. …Supply first and then consume…, creating incentives to put money into the hands of entrepreneurs and clearing a path for them to innovate by getting government out of the way.

In some sense, this is simply the common-sense observation that you can’t consume (or redistribute) unless someone first produces.

But it’s also a deeper message about what actually drives production.

There are no shortcuts. You can’t induce demand without supply. Didn’t the lockdowns prove that? Stimulus checks did little good given that there were few places to spend them until businesses were allowed to reopen. We’re now perversely sitting on almost $3 trillion in excess savings and even more new government debt. Yet the government stimulus mentality continues in Congress. …Through taxes and currency depreciation, demand-side spending steals savings needed to invest in future supply, which is why it never works. It is why the Great Depression lasted so long, why Japan lost two decades, and why 2009-16 saw subpar U.S. economic growth. When demand drops, government spending and giveaways make things worse. The only solution to kickstart production is to increase investment and make jobs more plentiful by cutting taxes and easing regulation. ..Price signals tell entrepreneurs what to supply. But price signals are only as good as their inputs. Minimum-wage laws mess up labor price signals. Tariffs mess up trade price signals. The Federal Reserve’s bond-buying blowouts mess up interest-rate price signals.

Amen. We know the policies that lead to more prosperity, but politicians constantly throw sand in the gears.

Simply stated, bigger government diverts resources from the productive sector of the economy. And that makes it more difficult to get the innovation and investment that are necessaryfor rising wages.

To be sure, there are some types of government spending that arguably help a private economy function.

But that’s not what we get from much of the federal government (Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentDepartment of EducationDepartment of EnergyDepartment of AgricultureDepartment of Transportation, etc).

Which is why the growth-maximizing size of government is far smaller than what we are burdened with today.

P.S. I can’t resist sharing this additional segment of Mr. Kessler’s column.

Modern Monetary Theory, known as MMT—what economist John Christensen called the “Magic Money Tree”—is the worst of demand-side nonsense. MMT believers think that to boost aggregate demand we can have government print money and spend, spend, spend. We tried this in the 1960s and ’70s with Great Society programs

At the risk of understatement, I agree with his concerns.

P.P.S. It’s worth noting that the World BankOECD, and IMF have all published research showing the benefits of smaller government.

Another cartoon I got from Dan Mitchell’s blog below.

Here’s a Lisa Benson cartoon that makes a similar point, but it focuses on Obama’s class-warfare tax policy.

Cartoon Grinch Spending

What makes the cartoon especially effective is that it not only shows that higher tax burden is designed to finance more spending, but also it makes clear that soaking-the-rich won’t be enough.

I thought taxes were not going up “by one cent,” but the truth is that they are going up a lot more that one cent.

Rob Bluey

February 27, 2013 at 10:32 am

President Obama is crisscrossing the country to scare Americans about sequestration. But what’s really frightening are the 13 Obama tax hikes that took effect in 2013.

These tax increases, which range from new Obamacare taxes to a payroll tax hike on workers, will slow the economy. Heritage Foundation President-Elect Jim DeMint warned on Fox News last night these tax hikes have the potential to cause more harm than the budget cuts that will happen as a result of sequestration:

Most of the media is so sold out to Obama that they’re missing the obvious. The policies the President has in place, especially the tax increases that just got in, are going to hurt our economy, probably actually bring it down. The President is desperate to blame it on Republicans. He wants to blame it on a reduction in government spending. But the taxes are taking almost two-and-a-half times more out of the economy than this sequester will.

So how do the Obama tax hikes compare to sequestration? It’s a whopping $149.7 billion in taxes vs. $85 billion in spending cuts.

Heritage’s Romina Boccia explains the consequences: Tax increases take money out of the economy that could have been spent on hiring workers and they change the incentives against productive work and investment, which slows growth over the long term.

We don’t expect Obama to mention these tax increases as he campaigns against the sequester. But we do encourage YOU to share our new video and the list of Obama’s 13 tax hikes, which that was put together by Curtis Dubay, a senior policy analyst at Heritage:

Tax increases the fiscal cliff deal allowed:

1. Payroll tax: increase in the Social Security portion of the payroll tax from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent for workers. This hits all Americans earning a paycheck—not just the “wealthy.” For example, The Wall Street Journal calculated that the “typical U.S. family earning $50,000 a year” will lose “an annual income boost of $1,000.”

2. Top marginal tax rate: increase from 35 percent to 39.6 percent for taxable incomes over $450,000 ($400,000 for single filers).

3. Phase out of personal exemptions for adjusted gross income (AGI) over $300,000 ($250,000 for single filers).

4. Phase down of itemized deductions for AGI over $300,000 ($250,000 for single filers).

5. Tax rates on investment: increase in the rate on dividends and capital gains from 15 percent to 20 percent for taxable incomes over $450,000 ($400,000 for single filers).

6. Death tax: increase in the rate (on estates larger than $5 million) from 35 percent to 40 percent.

7. Taxes on business investment: expiration of full expensing—the immediate deduction of capital purchases by businesses.

Obamacare tax increases that took effect:

8. Another investment tax increase: 3.8 percent surtax on investment income for taxpayers with taxable income exceeding $250,000 ($200,000 for singles).

9. Another payroll tax hike: 0.9 percent increase in the Hospital Insurance portion of the payroll tax for incomes over $250,000 ($200,000 for single filers).

10. Medical device tax: 2.3 percent excise tax paid by medical device manufacturers and importers on all their sales.

11. Reducing the income tax deduction for individuals’ medical expenses.

12. Elimination of the corporate income tax deduction for expenses related to theMedicare Part D subsidy.

13. Limitation of the corporate income tax deduction for compensation that health insurance companies pay to their executives.

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