ABSTRACT: The federal government’s deficit does need to be addressed, but doing so precipitously and in the wrong ways will hurt the economic recovery. Spending cuts and tax increases that have the least negative impact on jobs and the economy should be used. Given these criteria, four items come to the top of the list: 1) A financial transaction tax, 2) Cuts in military spending, 3) Reversing tax cuts and loopholes for high income individuals, and 4) Closing tax loopholes for profitable corporations. These four policy changes would eliminate the roughly $1 trillion per year deficit.
I urge you to determine where candidates for election stand on these measures as alternatives to the “fiscal cliff”. After the election, I urge you to contact your elected representatives to let them know where you stand and to ask them their position on these issues.
FULL POST: The federal government’s deficit does need to be addressed, but doing so precipitously and in the wrong ways will hurt the economic recovery. Specifically, the austerity approach of across the board budget cuts and tax increases, as in the 12/31/12 US deficit reduction “fiscal cliff” (see 9/19/12 blog post) and as currently being implemented in Europe, would hurt job creation and likely push our economy back into a recession, as is happening in Europe.
Selected spending cuts and tax increases that have the least negative impact on jobs and the economy should be used, as opposed to the broad ones of the “fiscal cliff.” Spending cuts in areas that have seen significant recent increases and the reversing of recent tax cuts should be prioritized. Fairness should also be considered.
Given these criteria, four items come to the top of the list:
- A financial transaction tax
- Cuts in military spending
- Reversing tax cuts and loopholes for high income individuals
- Closing tax loopholes for profitable corporations
These four policy changes would eliminate the roughly $1 trillion per year deficit. Here’s some detail on each of them.
A financial transaction tax (FTT) could generate $500 billion of revenue per year with a very low tax rate of between 0.1% and 0.5% on financial transactions (i.e., between $1.00 and $5.00 on the purchase or sale of each $1,000 worth of stocks, bonds, currency, commodities, or other financial instruments, including “derivatives”). If such a tax were applied very broadly to all financial transactions (there are over $1 quadrillion of financial transactions each year in the US), a 0.1% tax would actually generate over $1 trillion and eliminate the full deficit by itself.  A bill to create a FTT tax has been introduced in Congress. It would generate an estimated $350 billion per year. Most of us pay a sales tax on many of our purchases, so why shouldn’t there be a sales tax on Wall St. transactions? (More on the FTT in my next post.)
Military spending could be reduced without jeopardizing national security because:
- We are winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ($170 billion in 2011),
- Military spending has more than doubled since 2001 (increasing almost $400 billion per year and more in percentage terms than any other component of the federal budget),
- There is significant waste (easily tens of billions each year) in the military budget (some of it pork barrel spending to favor specific Congressional districts), and
- The US alone spends over 40% of all global military expenditures and three times what our European allies spend relative to the size of their economies. (See blog post of 11/17/11.)
Furthermore, military spending produces fewer jobs than just about any other kind of public spending. Overall, phasing in cuts to military spending of $100 – $200 billion per year would be quite reasonable.
Personal income tax rates have been reduced significantly over the last 30 years and most recently in 2001 and 2003. Since 1981, tax rates on high incomes (the cut off has varied between incomes over $200,000 and over $400,000) have been cut in half (from 70% to 35% on regular income). The lowest rate has been cut from 14% or 15% to 10%. Note that if you have taxable income of $1 million, the reduction from 70% to 35% puts $350,000 in your pocket every year. (See blog post of 11/27/11 for more detail.)
Reversing the tax cuts of 2001 – 2003 for those with incomes over $250,000 would generate $200 billion per year. If The Buffet Rule were implemented, eliminating loopholes and special tax benefits so that those with the top 10% of incomes actually paid at least 30% in income tax, revenue of $450 billion would be generated.
The corporate income tax rate today is 35%, down from 46% in the late 1980s. The effective tax rate (what is actually paid) was 18.5% in a recent study of 280 large, profitable corporations; down from 26.5% in the late 1980s. (See blog post of 11/5/11 for more detail.) If corporations actually paid the 35% rate an additional $500 billion in revenue would be generated. If they paid an effective rate of 22.5%, which was the average between 1987 and 2008, revenue would increase by $250 billion.
In summary, four manageable steps that would return us to the status quo of the 1990s and add a financial transactions tax from the 1960s, both periods when the economy was doing very well, would eliminate the $1 trillion deficit:
- A financial transaction tax: $350 – $500 billion
- Cuts in military spending: $100 – $200 billion
- Reversing tax cuts and loopholes for high income individuals: $200 – $450 billion
- Closing tax loopholes for profitable corporations: $250 billion
- TOTAL: $900 billion – $1.4 trillion
These steps, some phased in over time, would result in federal budget surpluses (as occurred in the 1990s). They would strengthen our economy and reduce inequality. None of them are radical; they simply reinstitute previous policies.
I urge you to determine where candidates for election stand on these measures as alternatives to the “fiscal cliff” that is in place for December 31, 2012. (See 9/19/12 blog post.) And after the election, I urge you to contact your elected representatives to let them know where you stand and to ask them their position on these issues.