Laffer’s Important Lessons For Growth, And A Note About Missouri
Last month, Art Laffer and Stephen Moore wrote in the Wall Street Journal about how high taxation destroys economic growth. As they put it, “Liberal utopias are losing the race for capital. The rich, the middle-class, the ambitious and others are leaving workers’ paradises such as Hartford, Buffalo and Providence for Jacksonville, San Antonio and Knoxville.” And they note, as we have noted so many times, that taxes on income are some of the worst you can levy if you want to keep people and capital in your state.
In our new report Rich States, Poor States, prepared for the American Legislative Exchange Council, we compare the economic performance of states with no income tax to that of states with high rates. It’s like comparing Hong Kong with Greece or King Kong with fleas.
Every year for the past 40, the states without income taxes had faster output growth (measured on a decadal basis) than the states with the highest income taxes. In 1980, for example, there were 10 zero-income-tax states. Over the decade leading up to 1980, those states grew 32.3 percentage points faster than the 10 states with the highest tax rates. Job growth was also much higher in the zero-tax states. The states with the nine highest income tax rates had no net job growth at all, and seven of those nine managed to lose jobs.
There are many excellent analyses and anecdotes in Rich States, Poor States. From state-specific stats to broader policy discussions, RSPS serves as a fine starting point for assessing our states’ economic health.
But some RSPS history needs to be noted regarding the book’s specific discussion of Missouri’s “economic outlook” (RSPS‘s forward-looking metric). Laffer and Moore’s observations about states without income taxes bears repeating — they have grown significantly in contrast to other income tax-reliant states — but from the perspective of policymakers and legislators here, the view RSPS paints of the Show-Me State is starting to diverge from the book’s own backward-looking “economic performance” metric.
How has Missouri done according to RSPS‘s metrics over the book’s last five editions? Well, the state has risen to seventh from 25th of the 50 states in “economic outlook” over the last five years, even as its actual performance has languished by RSPS‘s standards around 40th (roughly consistent with BEA and BLS statistics).
As the chart shows, the disparity between “where Missouri is going” and “where Missouri has been” has never been greater. I think that is a problem with RSPS‘s “outlook” metric, not the policy Laffer and Moore advocated in the Wall Street Journal. More to the point, the state has continued to flail in growth, arguably in part because the state continues to cling to its income tax and tax credit system, rather than shifting to a more effective, and less destructive, taxing system that does not pick winners and losers and does not penalize income.
Unfortunately, that hugely important point could get clouded when people see Missouri’s “outlook” ranking, which only considers the impact of income taxes as fractional, evenly-weighted components among more than a dozen factors of varying real-life importance. Missourians across the ideological spectrum do not agree on much, but what they certainly do agree on is that Missouri’s economic status quo is unacceptable and is not improving. In substance, Laffer and Moore agree with that assessment, despite what RSPS‘s “outlook” metric suggests.
The pathway to state growth that Laffer and Moore articulate is a clear one; Missouri is lacking only the political will and leadership to take it over the finish line. The outlook for finding that sort of political leadership, unfortunately, is decidedly more mixed, and while it remains mixed, Missouri’s economic performance will continue to suffer.