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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

NY Times: Romney's Tax Plan Doesn't Add Up

New York Times:  Romney’s Tax Plan and Economic Growth, by Bruce Bartlett:

Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, are quite insistent that their tax plan is just the elixir that the economy needs to jumpstart growth. ... In principle, a change that holds revenues constant while lowering marginal tax rates – the rate on the last dollar earned – should increase growth. That is because, in economist-speak, both the income and the substitution effects are pushing in the same direction. ... What Reagan did and Mr. Romney proposes is to keep taxes constant but to reduce marginal tax rates. ...

[E]conomic theory is unambiguous that holding taxes constant and reducing marginal rates will increase growth. But it is important to understand that this effect is neither large nor instantaneous. At best, it will raise the long-term trend rate of growth by perhaps tenths of a percent. With compounding, the effect can eventually be large.

But the idea that tax reform will jump-start an economy suffering from the after-effects of a cyclical downturn is nonsense. This can be illustrated by looking at the impact of the 1986 tax reform.

Real gross domestic product growth was about the same after the 1986 act took effect in 1987 as it was before, and tax reform obviously did nothing to forestall the 1990-91 recession. Unemployment fell, but it had been trending downward before tax reform, and the 1986 act probably had nothing to do with it. Within a couple of years it was trending upward again.

By the mid-1990s, it was the consensus view of economists that the Tax Reform Act of 1986 had little, if any, impact on growth. In an article in the May 1995 issue of the American Economic Review, the Harvard economist Martin Feldstein, a strong supporter of tax reform who had served as chairman of Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers, found large changes in the composition of income, but the only growth effect was a small increase in the labor supply of married women.

In a comprehensive review of the economic effects of the 1986 tax reform act, in the June 1997 issue of the Journal of Economic Literature, Alan Auerbach of the University of California, Berkeley, and Joel Slemrod, the University of Michigan economist, also found that the primary impact was on the shifting composition of income. They could find no significant growth effects. ...

Mr. Romney’s plan is not likely to be enacted in anywhere near the form he has proposed, if only because Congress is far more polarized today than it was in 1986, and the major political parties are much farther apart on the goals of tax reform. Consequently, there is little reason to think we will see tax reform any time soon, and even if Mr. Romney’s plan is enacted as proposed the growth effect will be small to nonexistent.

New York Times editorial, Mr. Romney Needs a Working Calculator:

To the annoyance of the Romney campaign, members of Washington’s reality-based community have a habit of popping up to point out the many deceptions in the campaign’s blue-sky promises of low taxes and instant growth. The latest is the Joint Committee on Taxation, an obscure but well-respected Congressional panel — currently evenly divided between the parties — that helps lawmakers calculate the effect of their tax plans.

The Romney campaign claims it has six studies proving it can be done, but, on examination, none of the studies actually make that point, or counterbalance the nonpartisan analyses that use real math. ... It is increasingly clear that the Romney tax “plan” is not really a plan at all but is instead simply a rhapsody based on old Republican themes that something can be had for nothing. For middle-class taxpayers without the benefit of expensive accountants, the bill always comes due a few years later.

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