I think of myself as a political moderate, conservative on fiscal matters and somewhat liberal on social issues. My blog posts are usually based on a recent newspaper article or think tank study presenting one side or the other of an important issue in an intelligent way. In other words, I seldom bother to refute what I consider to be dumb ideas. I assume that they will eventually die of their own dead weight. My favorite approach is to respond to an attractive article with which I may have a somewhat different point of view. Today’s New York Times has such an article, “Many Feel American Dream is Out of Reach, Poll Shows,” pointing out that 64% of a NYT Poll respondents think that it is possible to start out poor and become rich (see above chart), which opinion has dropped from 72% in 2009. The Poll also reports that:
81% of Americans have confidence in their own local banks whereas only 41% have confidence in Wall Street bankers and brokers.
52% think the economic system in the U.S. is basically fair, since all Americans have a chance to succeed, whereas 45% think it is unfair.
54% of Americans think that over-regulation of the economy, which interferes with economic growth, is a bigger problem than under-regulation, which may create an unequal distribution of wealth.
For almost two-thirds of Americans to be upbeat about the American Dream, after six or seven years of recession and slow recovery is to me a very positive sign. After a severe financial crisis, it is not at all surprising that “main street” bankers have a much higher favorability rating than “Wall Street” bankers.
Several months ago I reported on a survey taken by the progressive Global Strategy Group showing that 80% of voters consider economic growth more important than income inequality.
Both today’s NYT Poll and the previous GSG Survey are saying loud and clear that Americans put a high premium on economic growth and this is where our national leaders should be concentrating their time and energy. The new Republican majority in Congress has an almost historic opportunity to get this right. Let’s hope they don’t blow it!
The latest news on the American economy is mixed. The unemployment rate fell to 5.9% in September but the labor force also fell by 97,000 last month. The labor participation is now down to 62.7%, a level last seen in 1978. On the plus side 248,000 new jobs were created but the share of the population employed stayed at 59%, less than its 59.4% level at the end of the recession in June 2009. In other words, job growth is definitely picking up but not fast enough. How about income inequality? One simple way of describing and understanding the degree of income inequality in the U.S. is to look at median household income and how it changes over time. The above chart from the WSJ shows how the median U.S. household income fell from an all-time high of $56,895 in 1999 to $51,939 in 2013. However it also climbed back up to $56,436 in 2007 before dropping precipitously until 2012. The Global Strategy Group discovered in a recent survey that registered voters overwhelmingly rate economic growth as a higher priority than economic fairness. This means that any policy designed to speed up economic growth is likely to receive favorable support by the electorate.
In a recent post I describe a plan for broad-based tax reform specifically designed to speed up economic growth. It would involve an across-the-board cut in tax rates totaling about $500 billion per year, but completely paid for by closing loopholes and deductions which primarily benefit the wealthy. The 64% of taxpayers who do not itemize deductions would receive a tax cut. And they would likely spend this extra money in their pockets because they are precisely the middle- and lower-income wage earners with falling incomes.
An income tax redistribution like this would greatly reduce inequality but in a way which is designed to give the economy a big boost!
The progressive Global Strategy Group has recently released a new survey report “Focus on Growth to Frame Priorities” with a valuable message for all political candidates, left, right and center. GSG surveyed 3000 registered voters earlier this year and discovered that they overwhelmingly rate economic growth as a higher priority than economic fairness, economic justice, expanding the middle class, increasing wages or decreasing income inequality. In fact, economic growth trumped all of these alternative policy strategies by wide margins as shown below. GSG then goes on to list various possible growth strategies in order of voter popularity such as making college more affordable, modernizing infrastructure, improving K-12 education and others (see below). This list of possible growth strategies is made up mostly of new spending programs. The less costly might be doable by reforming existing spending programs. But expensive new programs simply will not fly in today’s high deficit environment. What is needed is a growth strategy which does not require new spending. The obvious choice is tax reform. For example, the fourth item in the above chart, reduce outsourcing by American companies, could be addressed by reforming corporate taxes.
But an even better growth strategy is individual tax reform whereby tax rates are lowered across the board, paid for by shrinking the many loopholes and deductions which primarily benefit the wealthy.
I described such a plan in detail in a previous post, but here is a brief summary: 64% of taxpayers do not itemize their deductions. This means that any reduction in tax rates will put money in their pockets. Since these are primarily the same middle- and lower-income workers with stagnant incomes, they will likely spend most of their increased pay, thus giving the economy a big boost.
In summary, the GSG report provides ammunition for political candidates of all ideological stripes. Let’s have a contest to see which party can be the most pro-growth. The winner will be the American people!