Tax reform for growth and fairness

Glenn Hubbard, dean of the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Once Congress gets back to work after Labor Day, there's going to be a whole lot of back and forth about the Bush tax cuts. Whether to extend them or let them expire as scheduled at the end of the year. There were, actually, two sets of tax cuts. 2001, which affected mostly individual income taxes and are what most people think of when they think of the Bush tax cuts. There was another set, though, in 2003.

Commentator Glenn Hubbard says we ought to extend them, too.


Glenn Hubbard: >Treasury Secretary Geithner is leading the charge to reduce the 2003 Bush tax cuts. This would increase tax rates on capital gains, and could raise the top tax rate on dividends from 15 percent to nearly 40 percent. And that would adversely affect stock prices, investment and the recovery.

In fact, low or zero taxes on dividends and capital gains promote saving and investment. More investment means more plants and equipment. And that raises workers productivity and wages. It's like this: The 2003 tax cut increased the absolute size of worker's share of the economic pie by making the entire pie bigger.

These points aren't in dispute. Still, the administration makes two other arguments for raising the taxes: They say the tax increases are necessary to reduce the yawning federal budget deficit and they also say they're necessary to promote fairness.

Now, I agree that deficit reduction is an essential goal. But is it the Treasury's view that raising dividend and capital gains taxes will promote needed growth and revenue? Reducing our present spending binge would seem a better path for growth-promoting deficit reduction.

And what about fairness? If the administration wants to place its view of fairness -- higher taxes on households earning more than $250,000 -- ahead of growth and job creation, that's a legitimate political choice. But if fairness is the goal, why not raise more revenue from higher-income taxpayers with less harm to investment and employment? Proposals to limit deductions for such taxpayers would be a clear alternative.

We need a serious discussion of tax policy and tax reform to promote growth and fairness. That is the discussion Secretary Geithner should be leading.

Ryssdal: Glenn Hubbard is dean of the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University. Back in the day, he ran the Council of Economic Advisors for President George W. Bush. Back for his regular appearance next week in this space, Robert Reich. Your thoughts are always welcome. Online works best.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...