…from a redneck Conservative18th Century Liberal, yet. The idea from this post came from an op-ed by Martin Feldstein in a week ago Monday’s Wall Street Journal. He wrote, in part,
A successful growth and employment strategy would combine substantial reductions in the relative size of the future national debt with immediate permanent tax-rate cuts and a multiyear program of infrastructure spending.
However, I have a slightly different couple of takes on the path to recovering our economy.
I have a dim view of government spending, based on the ultimate source of the money and the inherent inefficiencies of government spending. Many others have gone into this, also; I’ll not belabor them here. Instead, and in keeping with the spirit of those objections, I’m proposing something of the following.
President Barack Obama’s 2009 “Stimulus” Bill was $830 billion over and above the “ordinary” budget already passed during Bush the Younger’s last year. The 2010 budget deficit was $1.17 trillion as Obama continued profligate spending as “stimulus.” Or would have been had there been a budget passed. Given the deficits of the preceding years, let’s take $830 billion of that projected/planned deficit as “excess” deficit whose sole purpose was to be stimulative. For those two years, then, the spending targeted at stimulus totaled $1,660 billion.
The Federal tax rebates of 2008 went as high as $600 for a single person whose adjusted income was under $75k, and $1,200 for a couple whose income was under $150k. If the $1,660 billion were divided evenly among households regardless of income (just to keep the arithmetic simple in this post), then those billions could have been used to pay to each household a rebate of…$14.
The rebates didn’t work in 2008 because they were temporary. Instead of spending the money—the rebates’ purpose being to stimulate consumption—most Americans saved the money against an uncertain future or they used it to pay down existing debt. Both of these were very important to the long-term health of the economy, but they didn’t do anything for near-term stimulation. Even so, the money was used far more efficiently than the government could have—that saving and debt reduction—vs the government’s inherent friction of many bureaucratic middlemen absorbing much of that money.
But instead of rebating those $1,660 billion—and the $14 likely would have been spent; it’s about a beer and a pizza, and so stimulative, at least for the pizza house and its employees—government just ran up the debt going for shovel ready jobs that weren’t shovel ready after all.
That brings me to my preferred option. As Feldstein noted in that op-ed,
The only way to reduce future deficits without weakening incentives and growth is by cutting future government spending.
I propose, though, more government “spending,”* albeit of a less traditional form: a reduction in our tax rates (with a commensurate reduction in “normal” spending forms to pay for this alternative spending program). In 2010, the Federal government collected right at $1,600 billion in total tax revenue from all sources.
Maybe the Feds should spend all that “excess” deficit in the form of a permanent tax rate cut—not the simplistic one of 100% to absorb all of that “excess;” the government needs some funds for the things it’s legitimately required to do: national defense, Federal law enforcement (we have too many Federal laws, but that’s a different story), regulation of interstate commerce (and not intrastate commerce, but again, that’s a different story), and so on. Let’s go for a permanent reduction in our tax rates of 10% across the board.
With a permanent cut, instead of a temporary rebate, folks not only will save and pay down their debt, they’ll spend more, too. They’ll also spend far more efficiently than government because there’s no middleman involved, and they’ll be spending on what they want and/or need, and not taking what the government thinks they should want and/or need.
Senator Mike Lee’s (R, UT) tax proposal makes an interesting start in this direction.
*In quotes because, of course, it’s not the government’s money; it’s ours, and so the government leaving what’s ours in our hands isn’t actually government spending.