Thus spoke George Osborne, Great Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a recent speech to the Economic Club of New York. “By applying a consistent and long-term economic plan, we can ensure that our best days lie ahead. If we reduce our high debt so we can weather new shocks, and take the difficult decisions to make our economies more productive, we can provide rising living standards for our citizens.” According to Mr. Osborne, any long term economic plan needs to include three elements:
An activist monetary policy to do whatever it takes to sustain sufficient demand in the economy.
A credible commitment to sustainable fiscal policy. Some have argued that fiscal consolidation is incompatible with economic recovery. But recent experience, e.g. sequestration in the U.S. and a balanced budget in the U.K., has shown the reverse.
An ambitious program of supply-side reform. The U.S. has a booming technology sector and the fracking revolution. The U.K. has cut its corporate tax rate to 20%, welcomes disruptive innovation and is pushing ahead on shale gas.
In the U.S. things are moving in the right direction and so the focus needs to be on keeping the momentum going. Monetary stimulus has accomplished much but now a sound exit policy is needed. Sequestration has slowed down the growth of government debt but has not ended it. Further progress will require entitlement reform, especially for Medicare and Medicaid. But first, the Affordable Care Act needs to be improved to do a better job of controlling the overall cost of healthcare. Infrastructure improvement, tax reform and expanding trade are the supply side keys to increasing productivity and shared prosperity.
Activist monetary policy, credible fiscal policy, and ambitious supply side reform: these are the policies which will lead to future progress!
I am a fiscal conservative, as well as a social moderate, which means that I don’t fit very easily into a standard mold. I am non-doctrinaire, non-ideological and mostly nonpartisan. I vote for candidates from both major parties as well as independents. I prefer a balanced government with neither party in complete control.
My most direct sources of information on fiscal and economic issues are the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, both of which I read assiduously on a daily basis. When these two newspapers disagree on a particular issue, then I usually decide that the truth lies somewhere in between. Our biggest national problem right now, in my opinion, is the stagnant economy. In today’s WSJ, the lead editorial, “The Growth Deficit”, clearly describes how bad the situation is. Since the Great Recession ended in June 2009, our rate of GDP growth has averaged 2.2% per year. This compares with a 4.1% annual rate of growth for all post-1960 recovery periods.
Such a slow rate of growth causes all sorts of problems. First of all, it explains why our unemployment rate is still so high at 6.7% after five years of recovery. This means that between 15 and 20 million people are still unemployed or underemployed. Such a large human toll means a huge increase in government welfare expenses for food stamps, unemployment insurance, etc. Higher unemployment also means less tax revenue collected by the federal government. This translates into much larger deficit spending, adding to the already massive national debt.
There are lots of things which can be done to increase growth, for example:
Lowering tax rates on individuals to put more money in the hands of the 2/3 of Americans who do not itemize deductions on their tax returns. They’ll spend this extra income and create more demand! Pay for this by closing loopholes and deductions, which are used primarily by the wealthy. Besides stimulating the economy, this will simultaneously address increasing income inequality.
Lowering tax rates on corporations to encourage multinationals to bring their foreign profits back home for reinvestment or paying dividends. Again, balanced by eliminating deductions enjoyed by privileged corporations.
Relax regulatory burdens on small businesses where most new jobs are created.
Reform immigration procedures by boosting the number of H1-B visas to attract more highly skilled, and entrepreneurial, foreign workers.
Grant trade promotion authority to the President to speed up new trade agreements.
We should be clamoring for our national leaders to be acting on these fronts. A strong economy is the very backbone of our success as a nation!
Restore Fiscal Stability: constrain federal spending in a manner that reduces long-term spending growth, making both Medicare and Social Security more progressive and less expensive.
Enact Comprehensive Tax Reform: adopt a competitive, pro-growth tax framework that levels the playing field for U.S. companies competing in global markets. Several studies estimate that cutting the U.S. corporate tax rate by 10 % (e.g. from 35% to 25%) would boost GDP by 1% or more.
Expand U.S. Trade and Investment Opportunities: pass updated Trade Promotion Authority legislation and use TPA to complete many new trade agreements which are already pending.
Repair America’s Broken Immigration System: increase the number of visas for higher skilled workers and provide legal status for the millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.
These are the same “big four” policy changes which many progressive business leaders as well as evenhanded think tank experts often recommend. They are really just common sense ideas which reasonable people should be able to come together on.
Isn’t it obvious that we’ll soon be in big trouble if we don’t get our enormous budget deficits under control? And that controlling entitlement spending is key to getting this done?
Isn’t it just as obviously commonsensical that even U.S. based multinational corporations will try to avoid locating business operations in countries like the United States with very high corporate tax rates?
Isn’t it likewise obvious that foreign trade is just an extension of domestic trade and that the world is better off with as much trade as possible?
Finally, the secret of a vibrant, growing economy is to encourage as much initiative and innovation as possible. Who take more initiative than the immigrants who figure out how to get here in the first place?
We don’t have to accept a sluggish economy, high unemployment and massive debt! But we do need to take intelligent action to extricate ourselves from the predicament we are in!
My previous post, “Fundamental Tax Reform Is the Key to Solving Our Economic and Fiscal Problems II. The Graetz Plan”, describes a tax reform plan which establishes a 14% national consumption (VAT) tax, exempts families earning under $100,000 from paying any income tax and also reduces the Corporate Income Tax to 15%. All of this is done in a revenue neutral manner while also preserving all of the progressivity of our current income tax system. A recent Op Ed column in the New York Times, by the economist Lawrence Kotlikoff, “Abolish the Corporate Income Tax”, makes the case that such a proposal “might sound like a gift to the rich, but it would actually help workers. … Apple’s tax return says it all: The company, according to one calculation, paid only 8% of its worldwide profits in United States corporate income taxes, thanks to piling up most of its profits and locating far too many of its operations overseas.”
Our corporate income tax rate, at 35%, is one of the highest in the world and this is what encourages American multinational companies to move their business to other countries. Whether we abolish the corporate income tax entirely, or just reduce it to 15%, is less important than recognizing the need to overcome popular prejudice about big business and make fundamental changes in our tax structure.
Solving our country’s many problems, from rising inequality at home to projecting adequate strength around the world, requires that the U.S. have a strong economy. An annual growth rate of 2% of GDP is not nearly good enough to end our current economic stagnation. To accomplish this will require overcoming the strong headwinds of increasing global competition and the replacement of people with machines. We will need innovative thinking and initiative to break out of the old ways of doing things which are holding us back.
Are the American people “exceptional” enough to accomplish this challenging task?
In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, columnist William Galston talks about “The Floundering of America”. Based on recent reports from the Congressional Budget Office, Mr. Galston says that “Today we are hurtling toward a less dynamic economy, a meaner society and a riskier world.”
His argument is based on these observations:
For the past 40 years, 1970-2010, the labor force expanded at an average rate of 1.6% per year. It will soon slow to only .4% annual growth, because of more retirements and a plateauing of women’s labor-force participation. This means that growth in GDP will slow down to about 2% annually from its historical average of over 3%.
America is aging very fast. Today there are 57 million Social Security beneficiaries which will increase to 76 million in 2023. Obviously this will rapidly increase entitlement spending on retirees.
America already spends 18% of GDP on healthcare costs and the CBO projects that this will grow to 22% by 2038.
“In sum, current trends and policies will yield lower rates of economic growth, painfully slow gains in real incomes, huge increases in outlays for expenses related to an aging population, and a health sector that devours more and more of the national product”, he says.
These trends are all contributing to an explosion of the national debt. The only current strategy to keep this debt even roughly stable during the next decade, let alone reduce it, is to shrink discretionary spending through sequestration. This will lead to a decline in discretionary spending to 5.3% of GDP by 2023. This means roughly 2.6% of GDP for national defense with an equal share or all other domestic purposes.
“This is pure folly”, says Mr. Galston. “The country needs a new national strategy for a viable future.”
How do we achieve a new strategy? Immigration reform will increase the size of the workforce. Tax reform could boost the economy by encouraging business expansion, risk taking and entrepreneurship. True (consumer-driven) healthcare reform could dramatically lower the cost of healthcare. In other words there are potential policies out there that address our national floundering. We simply need leaders who are capable of going beyond partisanship in order to help create a better future!
In my previous post I laid out the view of the economist, Tyler Cowen, in his new book “Average is Over”, that the powerful trends of globalization, technology, and ever increasing machine intelligence (such as Google’s search engines), will lead to a super elite 10-15% of American’s who will have the ability and self-discipline to master tomorrow’s technology and profit from it. The average middle class worker will be increasingly replaced or downgraded by intelligent machines. Social and economic inequality will continue to grow and this new trend will be very hard to overcome. This is a bleak prospect for the future of America. What can be done to resist this trend and to try to turn it around? Jim Clifton, the CEO of the Gallup Organization, says in “The Coming Jobs War”, that “what everyone in the world wants is a good job” and he has many ideas about how to boost the economy in order to produce more good jobs. According to Mr. Clifton, there is no shortage in this country of creativity, new inventions and innovation. What is lacking are successful business models to commercialize the good ideas which are already out there and create customers for new products. We need entrepreneurship. “Entrepreneurship has a direct impact on supply and demand, but with a distinction. It doesn’t just provide supply, it builds demand.” Next question: how do we boost entrepreneurship? We get government out of the way as much as possible. This means the lowest possible tax rates (offset by eliminating tax loopholes for the wealthy) and fewer burdensome regulations (such as the employer mandate for health insurance). As a society we have to decide which is more important: creating more and better jobs by growing the economy faster or making everyone more equal with higher taxes and more income redistribution. We can’t have it both ways. To reverse or at least slow down the trends which are now shrinking the middle class, the best policy is to go all out for entrepreneurship and investment!