The on-going debate on the “fiscal cliff,” automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that will take place at the beginning of the year, has constantly been at the forefront of the news over the last several months.
Last week, 180 economists signed a letter to members of Congress explaining why a tax hike would hurt the economy. They instead call on Congress to take up tax reform — a simplified tax code with lower rates — reduce spending and take up enetitlement reform:
Some in Congress have advocated allowing the 2001 and 2003 taxpayer relief laws to expire for some or all taxpayers. Such an action would have a significant, negative impact on the economy. Low taxes can have a constructive economic effect by keeping money in the private sector, where it is far more likely to be utilized for efficient purposes. By contrast, raising taxes would divert resources into the relatively inefficient public sector, thereby curbing potential job creation and economic growth. This effect would be even more pronounced during a persistent slump.
In particular, Congress should avoid raising marginal tax rates on income and taxes on investment, such as capital gains and dividends taxes. These types of taxes most directly and meaningfully affect job creation.
Additionally, lawmakers must resist other destructive proposals that would boost effective tax burdens, such as curtailing itemized deductions for higher earners or imposing discriminatory taxes on energy or other industries. Such policies are merely revenue-raising ploys when executed outside the context of comprehensive tax reform that includes correspondingly lower marginal rates. And like other tax increases, they would serve as inadequate substitutes to much-needed spending restraint.
While some Members of Congress are concerned about the short-term impacts of slowing the growth of federal expenditures, they must uphold their commitment to the American people to address the alarming trajectory of U.S. spending and borrowing. There are more tangible benefits to consider as well: research has shown that spending restraint is superior to tax increases for both deficit reduction and long-term economic vitality. This has proven true in many other developed nations that have implemented fiscal adjustments.
To best foster a strong economy, Congress should ultimately create a simpler system of taxation with a broader base and low rates on income and investment. Simultaneously, it should prioritize government programs and pursue entitlement reforms that bring the budget to sustainable balance. Individuals and businesses are depending on — and deserve — greater certainty in policy making that affects their everyday financial decisions.
The letter was delivered to Congress last Wednesday. Given the tone in Washington, DC, it has apparently fallen on the deaf ears of leadership in both parties.