December 24, 2001
STIMULUS OR SPENDING?
Congress adjourned for the year last week, leaving an economic stimulus bill in the hands of the Senate. Partisan spending interests in that body killed the bill, however, leaving the President without the jump start for the flagging economy that he sought. I certainly supported the President's efforts to pass tax relief this year, and it's unfortunate that the political climate in Washington prevented passage of even a very small tax cut. I only wish new spending measures were as contentious and difficult to pass through Congress!
It's important to cut through the rhetoric surrounding the stimulus debate over the last few weeks. The only real and lasting way to stimulate the economy is to reduce the amount of money government takes out of the private economy. The only way to do this is by cutting taxes. When taxes are reduced on individuals, they have more money to spend, save, or invest. When taxes are reduced on companies, they have more money to hire new employees, increase wages, or pay dividends to investors. Since all economic growth depends on private capital, the goal of any economic stimulus plan must be to leave more private capital in the hands of investors. When too much American wealth is tied up in government coffers, investment and job growth suffer. This is exactly what we have seen over the past 18 months- the Treasury "surplus" touted by the last administration actually represents a tax overcharge that dragged the economy down well before September 11th.
These obvious economic realities are lost on most Washington politicians, who either fail to understand basic economics or choose to ignore the long-term harm they cause. Many in Congress fought to add billions in wasteful pork spending to the stimulus bill. Of course the lobbyists and the special interests love any new spending, because it "stimulates" certain industries and groups. It's easy for politicians to point to the benefits of such spending; for example, a government contract certainly creates new jobs, right? The fallacy, of course, is that we never see the economic growth that would have been created if those tax dollars had never been sent to Washington in the first place. Remember, the private marketplace is always far more efficient that any government program. You know better than the government how to spend your own money, and the same principle applies to the economy as a whole. Spending is spending, even when politicians call it "investing in America" or "stimulus." Government cannot simply spend us into prosperity.
Even when small tax cuts are discussed, there is misplaced debate over how best to structure things so Americans will be sure to spend the extra money and satisfy the supply-side believers. This social engineering has no place in our government. The only legitimate purpose of our tax system is to raise revenues needed to run the government. It's not the government's job to determine how you should use your money.
Liberty-minded Americans must continue their efforts to change the climate in Washington. It is still possible for tax cuts to be enacted in 2002; unfortunately, it appears the Senate won't act until the economy gets even worse. This is unfortunate, because a deeper recession could be avoided with some obvious steps. An elimination of corporate income taxes would immediately spur job growth. Despite the claims of the class warriors, corporate income taxes are paid by all of us in the form of higher prices for goods and services. A capital gains cut for individuals, coupled with a significant decrease in marginal tax rates, would cause a huge increase in investment. Such measures would represent real stimulus; our hardworking and entrepreneurial citizens would do the rest. The American people should not wait for a severe economic crisis before they demand that the government cut taxes and return needed capital to the legitimate private economy.