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Jewish World Review May 16, 2003 / 14 Iyar, 5763

Tom Purcell

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Consumer Reports

Laffer all the way to the bank | Confused by all the arguing over President Bush's proposed tax cuts, I paid a visit to my accountant Vinny the Number Cruncher for some perspective.

"Vinny, Republicans think the best way to help the economy is to cut taxes, whereas Democrats think tax cuts will be the ruin of America. Who is right?"

"Kid, I'd love to offer up my opinion on the subject, but in my line of work it's best to stick with the facts."

"So what are the facts?"

"You ever hear of a fellow called Arthur Laffer, kid? He created the Laffer Curve, which pretty much shows this: If the income tax rate is zero, the government gets no revenue. But if the tax rate is 100%, the government gets no revenue. That's because people won't bother doing any work if they don't get to keep any of their hard-earned dough."

"Makes perfect sense to me."

"Well, the Laffer Curve says that there is an optimum tax rate in between zero and 100 percent at which the government is able to collect the maximum amount of revenue without impeding work incentives. If tax history is our guide, the optimum rate tends to be on the lower end of the scale."


"The Heritage Foundation does a terrific job documenting this story, kid. In 1921, the top income tax rate was 71 percent, a rate left over from the effort to finance the first World War."

"That was awfully high."

"Yeah, and the economy was suffering as a result. But when the top rate was reduced to 24 percent, the economy boomed, growing by 59 percent between 1921 and 1929."

"But didn't that era lead up to the Great Depression?"

"Good question, kid, and I got a good answer for you. In 1930, Herbert Hoover raised taxes to a maximum of 63 percent. A good argument can be made that high taxes were a key contributor to that dismal economic period."

"I didn't know that."

"Now let's go to the 1960's. Again tax rates were high, a leftover from WWII. The top tax rate was a whopping 91 percent. President Kennedy reduced that down to 70 percent. He also reduced taxes on savings and investment. The result: one of the longest periods of economic expansion."

"Not too shabby." "That brings us to the 1980's. President Reagan reduced the top rate to 28 percent, and the economy exploded. We enjoyed the longest peacetime expansion in American history."

"But some people argue that the deficit spending during that period also stimulated the economy. Reagan spent billions on the military and Democrats and the Congress spent money like drunken sailors."

"I'll let the economists argue that one, kid. The fact is lower taxes always result in economic expansion and higher government revenue, and higher taxes tend to bring about the opposite result."

"But what about the deficit, Vinny? If we cut taxes now, won't that increase the deficit and drive up the cost of borrowing?"

"That is precisely what the Democrats are trying to argue. But if history is our guide, that won't be the case. The Bush team believes that lower taxes will unlock the energy of our dormant economy, which will cause businesses to invest in new equipment and consumers to spend, which will result in jobs, which will result in higher receipts to the government, which will reduce the deficit."

"So you're saying that Bush's tax cuts are what we need right now?"

"Well, kid, let's look back to recent history. Since Reagan left office, taxes were raised three times. Once during the first President Bush's term and twice during the Clinton years."

"But why? If lower taxes allow the economy to breathe, that means more people will be working and the government will end up with far more revenue."

"So na´ve, kid. The reason is that some people, usually Democrats, believed it wasn't fair that some people made a lot of money and only paid a top tax rate of 28 percent."

"And as a result, we've kept getting further away from what appears to be the optimum tax rate on the Laffer Curve?"

"Precisely, kid."

"And if that is the case, then the best action now is to lower taxes and get them closer to a level that, historically, has resulted in robust economic expansion and high revenues for the government. And we'll 'Laffer' all the way to the bank!"

"Kid, I couldn't have said it better myself."

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05/09/03: My mother's house
05/02/03: Teaching the Iraqis how to protest
04/25/03: Iraqi TV
04/21/03: Explaining Democracy to the Iraqis
04/11/03: Major increases to the beer tax? That's a cheap shot right to the beer gut
04/04/03: War humor
03/31/03: Dolphins, PETA and the USA
03/21/03: Traffic Wars
03/14/03: Ronald Reagan's St. Patrick's Day
03/03/03: My Family's Tragic Secret: We're French
02/21/03: I'm worried about my people
02/14/03: George Washington Makeover
02/07/03: Making quiet sacrifices
01/24/03: "Gimme the, goo-goo, gah-gah, remote!"
01/21/03: "Misunderestimated"
01/10/03: Republican night life
01/06/03: Exercise pills
12/31/02: They provide unending joy to those who are wise enough to let them in
12/13/02: Hurried Man Syndrome
12/06/02: In DC, snowstorms have important ramifications --- or, at least, they should
11/26/02: Police advertising
11/15/02: An Interview with Osama
11/01/02: How to vote in America
10/25/02: On edge in Washington, D.C
10/11/02: Giving new meaning to "selling your body"
10/04/02: Bush's Angels
09/27/02: Conservatives, Liberals, Dick Armey and Barry Manilow
09/20/02: Are SUV drivers are the new GOPers?
09/13/02: Bubba is Dubya's man
09/06/02: The Freedom to Picnic
08/16/02: Ah, the $izzle of anti-terrorist pork
08/09/02: Vacationless prez and gutless Americans
07/26/02: Study gives women permission not to hide their emotions
07/15/02: Patriot food
06/28/02: Eavesdropping on a San Fran classroom
06/21/02: The crowded skies
06/14/02: Contemporary Father's Day: A conversation for the ages
06/07/02: Legal rights for animals?
05/19/02: Advice for prom goers this year: Hold onto your money
05/10/02: Don't take her for granted
05/03/02: Letter to the parents of a tubby teen
04/26/02: Zacarias Moussaoui gets expert legal advice

© 2002, Tom Purcell