Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Are Low Taxes Exacerbating the Recession?

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By David Sirota

The real problem facing the Greeks is not how to reduce spending but how to increase revenue collections.
As the planet's economy keeps stumbling, the phrase "worst recession since the Great Depression" has become the new "global war on terror" — a term whose overuse has rendered it both meaningless and acronym-worthy. And just like that previously ubiquitous phrase, references to the WRSTGD are almost always followed by flimsy and contradictory explanations.

Republicans who ran up massive deficits say the recession comes from overspending. Democrats who gutted the job market with free trade policies nonetheless insist it's all George W. Bush's fault. Meanwhile, pundits who cheered both sides now offer non-sequiturs, blaming excessive partisanship for our problems.

But as history (and Freakonomics) teaches, such oversimplified memes tend to obscure the counterintuitive notions that often hold the most profound truths. And in the case of the WRSTGD, the most important of these is the idea that we are in economic dire straits because tax rates are too low.

This is the provocative argument first floated by former New York governor Eliot Spitzer in a Slate magazine article evaluating 80 years of economic data.

"During the period 1951-63, when marginal rates were at their peak — 91 percent or 92 percent — the American economy boomed, growing at an average annual rate of 3.71 percent," he wrote in February. "The fact that the marginal rates were what would today be viewed as essentially confiscatory did not cause economic cataclysm — just the opposite. And during the past seven years, during which we reduced the top marginal rate to 35 percent, average growth was a more meager 1.71 percent."

Months later, with USA Today reporting that tax rates are at a 60-year nadir, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Brookings Institution audience that "the rich are not paying their fair share in any nation that is facing (major) employment issues…whether it is individual, corporate, whatever the taxation forms are."

http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/6209/are_low_taxes_exacerbating_the_recession/

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