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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Feldstein on Obama’s Tax Hikes and the Economy

In a May 13 Wall Street Journal article, Martin Feldstein, who served as the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and is a Harvard University professor, does an excellent job in explaining why the various tax increases being proposed by President Obama, “if enacted by Congress, kill any chance of an early and sustained recovery.”

Some key points:

• “Historians and economists who've studied the 1930s conclude that the tax increases passed during that decade derailed the recovery and slowed the decline in unemployment. That was true of the 1935 tax on corporate earnings and of the 1937 introduction of the payroll tax. Japan did the same destructive thing by raising its value-added tax rate in 1997.”

• “Even if the proposed tax increases are not scheduled to take effect until 2011, households will recognize the permanent reduction in their future incomes and will reduce current spending accordingly. Higher future tax rates on capital gains and dividends will depress share prices immediately and the resulting fall in wealth will cut consumer spending further. Lower share prices will also raise the cost of equity capital, depressing business investment in plant and equipment.”

• “Mr. Obama's biggest proposed tax increase is the cap-and-trade system of requiring businesses to buy carbon dioxide emission permits. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the proposed permit auctions would raise about $80 billion a year and that these extra taxes would be passed along in higher prices to consumers. Anyone who drives a car, uses public transportation, consumes electricity or buys any product that involves creating CO2 in its production would face higher prices.”

• “The next-largest tax increase -- with a projected rise in revenue of more than $300 billion between 2011 and 2019 -- comes from increasing the tax rates on the very small number of taxpayers with incomes over $250,000. Because this revenue estimate doesn't take into account the extent to which the higher marginal tax rates would cause those taxpayers to reduce their taxable incomes -- by changing the way they are compensated, increasing deductible expenditures, or simply earning less -- it overstates the resulting increase in revenue.”

• “The third major tax increase is the plan to raise $220 billion over the next nine years by changing the taxation of foreign-source income… Bringing production back to be taxed at the higher U.S. tax rate would raise the cost of capital and make the products less competitive in global markets. American corporations would therefore have an incentive to sell their overseas subsidiaries to foreign firms. That would leave future profits overseas, denying the Treasury Department any claim on the resulting tax revenue. And new foreign owners would be more likely to use overseas suppliers than to rely on inputs from the U.S. The net result would be less revenue to the Treasury and fewer jobs in America.”

Read the entire piece, as it lays out the compelling story of how the Obama tax increases will do real damage to the U.S. economy.

Raymond J. Keating
Chief Economist
Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council

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