It's The Spending, Stupid!

It was while reading the comments to this Brian Riedl piece about the myth of the Bush tax cuts and the deficit that I a suspicion of mine was confirmed, that being that far too many otherwise educated and experienced people still have little understanding of the relationship between taxes, government spending, and economic growth.

First, the three myths.

The Bush tax cuts wiped out last decade's budget surpluses.

The next decade's deficits are the result of the previous administration's profligacy.

Declining revenues are driving future deficits.

I won't delve into the rebuttal Riedl provides as you are more than capable of reading it for yourself.
However I can boil it down to a simple, easily understood phrase: It's the spending, Stupid!”

Tax cuts didn't cause the deficits during the Bush Administration. They didn't cause the unprecedented deficits during the first 19 months of the Obama Administration. The shortfall in revenue was not the problem then, and it's not the problem now. It's the spending by our government that exceeds what it takes in that is causing the deficits, period. Raising taxes won't solve the revenue shortfall because they won't generate the revenues Congress expects. Instead, revenues will fall off as the higher taxes discourage the very economic activity the government needs in order to expand the tax base.

Now comes the fun part.

Reading the 200+ comments to Riedl's op-ed piece, it is quite obvious who gets it and who doesn't.

Probably one of the most disturbing set of comments came from someone who is purportedly an experienced CPA, yet doesn't understand the Laffer Curve for what it is: a graphic representation of the relationship between tax rates and tax revenues. More than one comment showed her lack of understanding that the relationship between tax rates and tax revenues is not linear, meaning that if tax rates are doubled on some economic activity the revenue collected does not automatically double. It will be less than that because the higher taxes discourage the activity being taxed, hence less money changes hands, in turn decreasing the amount of money available to be taxed.

She also likes to make claims she doesn't back up or is unwilling to admit she was wrong when confronted with facts from the very sources she (sometimes) quotes. An example:

Virtually every economics Ph.D. who has worked in a prominent role in the Bush Administration acknowledges that the tax cuts enacted during the past six years have not paid for themselves--and were never intended to.

She then goes on the quote economist Greg Mankiw, saying he wrote that the Bush tax cuts didn't raise revenues, in effect debunking the claim. But what Mankiw wrote was that they didn't raise revenues as much as had been expected, but they still rose. There was also a lag between when taxes were cut and the economy reflected the boost in available capital. It also depended upon which taxes were cut and by how much. That's not quite the same thing.

On the other hand, another commenter appeared to have a better understanding of the effects of the tax cuts on the average taxpayer and even provides some numbers generated using “some great tax preparation software” to debunk claims by others that the tax cuts actually placed a greater tax burden on them.

In the end what it all boils down to is that the only way to reduce deficits in a manner that won't take decades or generations to accomplish is for the government to spend a lot less money, not tax the bejeezus out of everyone that has an income. Or to put it more simply, again: It's the spending, Stupid!”