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Where Does Tax Rhetoric Meet Reality?

There has been a lot of talk lately about taxes.  George W. Bush lowered tax rates twice while in office.  Democrats portray those cuts as “tax cuts for the rich” as though no one else benefitted–not even the large number of folks who were removed completely from the tax rolls due to the minimum taxable amount being increased.  Democrats also complain about the cost of the cut for the richest folks, constantly ignoring that the cost of the cut for the other brackets was 3 times as much.  Obama then extended those cuts, much to the chagrin of the Dems.

Now, as talk of deficit reduction and debt reduction heats up, there is much hand wringing going on regarding what to cut and where to get more revenue.  Democrats, of course, say raise taxes.  Republicans say no.

Republicans are playing hardball in terms of tax policy, saying no tax increases will be on the table.  In a way, I can agree, as the more important thing is to lower spending.  Not only that, but the government has a pattern in place:  every time more money comes in, they find a way to spend it.  Without going into detail, the fact that by law, surplus Social Security money is put into the general fund for spending purposes is a prime example.  Anyway, Republicans have their own tax mantra that they will say over and over and over again:

Tax cuts spur economic growth.  But tax increases destroy the economy and destroy jobs!

Having heard this so many times, I finally wondered how much truth there is to this.  Nevermind that I personally believe that taxes can be increased with with no devastating effect to the economy.  I wanted to know what history has shown.  Was there any conclusive proof that showed where tax increases had really hurt the economy?

From what I knew already, I knew that there were examples where tax rate cuts had at least helped spur the economy.  Higher taxes helped fund World War II.  JFK also decreased taxes, which led to economic growth.  Even under G.W. Bush, the economy grew after his tax rate cuts, though in a very tepid fashion.  But what about tax increases?

I was skeptical that I would find evidence and was convinced that the notion was simply a Republican talking point, but there is indeed proof.

  • President Herbert Hoover signed a major tax increase in 1932.  The top marginal rate was increased from 25% to 63%, among other rate increases.  Tax revenues in 1933 were 42% of what they were just two years prior.  Unemployment rose to nearly 25%.  Slowly, though, the economy recovered until…
  • In 1937, Roosevelt signed into law new tax increases.  The result was that the economy went back into recession and didn’t come back until during WWII.  Truman actually cut taxes during that time and by the end of the decade there were budget surpluses.
  • Reagan signed a major tax rate cut in 1981.  Many Republicans like to point this out about Reagan and say that those cuts are why the economy grew during the Reagan years.  But that leaves out part of the story.  Reagan signed a number of tax increases starting in 1982.  Tax loopholes were closed and Social Security was overhauled.  Businesses ended up paying more taxes as a result.  Despite this, there was still economic growth.
  • During the 90s, Clinton raised taxes.  The country was coming out of a recession, and even with the tax increases, the economy grew.  Clinton did, however, also lower taxes on capital gains in the mid-90s.  Many say it was actually the tax cut and not the increase that provided the huge boost in revenue to the government.

So, what is the outcome of my info hunt?  Well, as usual, both sides will make declarations without telling the entire story.  But right now, Republicans are most guilty of cherry picking.  While it’s true that some tax increases did real damage, both Reagan and Clinton showed tax increases can be done and they NOT throw the economy into chaos.  I will also point out that they are especially guilty of ignoring Reagan’s tax increases (yes plural) when talking about how his cuts grew the economy.

Bottom line, rolling tax rates back to pre-Bush levels will not damage the economy.  Just like before, businesses will still find a way to survive and eventually thrive, the economy will grow, and there will be jobs.

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One response to “Where Does Tax Rhetoric Meet Reality?

  1. carl saxon May 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    I beleive they both work when used properly. Key phrase..used properly

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