Give Tax Cuts A Chance
Perched atop his ivory tower, Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winning economist, has declared that the tax cuts enacted by the Kansas legislature in 2012 are a failure. Writing in The New York Times, Krugman avers that “the Kansas debacle shows that tax cuts don’t have magical powers” and that “faith in tax-cut magic isn’t about evidence.” Is the all-knowing economist correct?
(As an aside, it was Mr. Krugman, writing in The New York Times in 2011 who stated that “the V.H.A. [Veterans’ Hospital Administration] is a huge success story, which offers important lessons for future health reform.”)
Mr. Krugman’s predictable protestations notwithstanding, there actually is a significant body of empirical evidence finding that, on average, states and countries with lower tax rates tend to grow faster. (See articles in this SMI study.) While economists, like any other group of scientists, debate their findings, there is real-world evidence to believe that reducing taxes can improve the economic lives of a state’s citizens.
Every principles of economics student, even those using Mr. Krugman’s textbook, learns that if you wish to reduce an activity, tax it. Since income taxes are derived from working, basic economic theory predicts that higher income taxes will reduce people’s incentive to work more hours. At the extreme, tax me 100 percent of my income and I’ll just stay home, thank you. So, lowering tax rates in income should reduce this disincentive to work.
Mr. Krugman does not seem to think that lowering taxes matters. The story that Walgreens is contemplating moving its headquarters to Switzerland to lower its tax burden belies that notion. Even if you find this proposed move disturbing, you cannot ignore the simple fact that Walgreen’s likely would not consider relocating if taxes were equal in the two countries. Tax rates really do matter in making economic decisions.
There is no denying the fact that since the Kansas legislature enacted the tax cut in 2012 (it became effective in 2013), the state’s economy has yet to achieve the economic take-off that some promised. Job growth is slower than the national average and, due partly to income shifting in response to the fiscal cliff, the drop in tax revenues in 2014 compared to 2013 has been larger than predicted.
Changes in the tax code cannot be expected to reverse years of weak economic performance overnight. Kansas, like many other states, is still recovering from the effects of the Great Recession. Like most medicines, changes in tax codes should not be expected to deliver immediate cures.
Before Mr. Krugman is anointed as the Cassandra of tax cuts, let’s give the experiment time to take hold. Time will tell, but basic intuition and existing evidence predicts that Kansas’ economic future is brighter today than it would have been without the tax cuts.