Economic growth is of primary concern for policymakers and the Obama administration as the president continues to tout policy designed at stimulating job creation. The mantra continues that in order to get the economy growing again, and move people into the labor force, government needs to spend more. A jobs bill, a stimulus package, a bridges bill, etc. – all that is needed is more government spending. Congress has all but forgotten, or so it seems, about the growing national debt with a $1.3 trillion budget gap this year alone. So the spending proposals continue. To what end? And has this solution proved effective in the last series of major economic challenges of the late 1970s and '80s?
The Obama administration recently approved a half-billion-dollar federal loan guarantee to an electric-car company that has decided to manufacture its first line of automobiles in Finland. Is this the path to growth and continued prosperity for Americans? The problem here is not a question of intentions. Surely all legislators and the president desire to put Americans back to work. The problem resides in the basic limitations of government. There is no agency, politician, or bureaucrat that has enough information to efficiently direct resources in order to ensure a particular outcome. Decision-making by market participants informed by the specific knowledge of their complex circumstances is the only way forward. Washington lawmakers are unable to predict U.S. tax dollars fleeing to Finland and employing Finish autoworkers.
Instead of pushing spending bills and stimulus packages, instead of inciting protesters to blame American firms for all the evils in the world, the president should shift his focus to policy of which government can actually predict the beneficial outcome. Tax reform is the solution. Ronald Reagan demonstrated in the 1980s that when government gets off the backs of the people economic change will follow. Reagan pursued radical tax reform for two primary reasons: to lessen the burden of government while promoting the founding ideals of economic and political freedom, and to promote incentives that generate economic growth.
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Optimal tax policy is not that which maximizes revenue to the federal government. Government has a limited function to perform, primarily a protective one, yet it is clear that for too many in Washington that the reach of government should have no bounds. Thus, when policymakers view government as the first solution to all economic problems, spending decisions are made irrespective of revenue – which leads to the massive deficits.
In addition to promoting liberty, the unprecedented tax reform ushered in by Reagan set a course for economic growth that was unparalleled in U.S. history. Cutting marginal tax rates for all wage earners and for the highest earners by 42 percent in six years, Reagan changed the incentive to work and earn and thus unleashed frenetic economic activity. This type of leadership and this scale of reform is what America needs today.
The solutions offered by the Obama administration to the economic stagnation that persists in the U.S. economy all reside in a failed ideology. Unlike during the 1980s, the belief in Washington today is that government is the solution and the real problem is tax policy that fails to generate enough revenue for the government to spend. Pulling dollars out of the market economy for government to spend on stimulating the market economy is backwards, yet this is exactly what the president is pushing for.
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The time has come for politicians in Washington to pursue radical tax reform in the model of Reagan 30 years ago. Incremental changes in marginal tax rates will not provide the stimulus needed to jump start a sluggish economy, and raising rates on any level of income will only increase (albeit temporarily) the ability for government to spend more using the failed approach of "more spending" as the only solution. A complete change of the tax code will usher in a new decade of prosperity as occurred in the 1980s, but this will only happen if new leadership in Washington governs with the conviction that less government will lead to more "public" prosperity.
Dr. Peter Frank is the Jesse Helms Center free enterprise fellow and a professor of economics at Wingate University. His newest white paper, entitled "Research on Reaganomics: Past Contributions and the Future of Economic Growth Policy," was published this month and can be viewed at www.jessehelmscenter.org.