Lindsey on Stimulus
Sounds good to me.
Permanent tax cuts offer a much better option. The incoming chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Christina Romer, has estimated that the macroeconomic benefits of tax cuts can be two to three times larger than common estimates of the benefits related to spending increases. The relative advantage of tax cuts over spending is even clearer when the recession is centered on the household balance sheet. Some relatively minor changes, like making the current 15 percent tax rate on dividends and capital gains permanent, would not only help household cash flow, but also put a floor under equity prices much as their introduction did in 2003. This would help protect against further wealth destruction and balance sheet deterioration.
But the centerpiece of any tax cut should be employment taxes: in particular, a permanent halving of the current 12.4 percent Social Security payroll tax on the first $106,800 of wages, split evenly between workers and employers. The direct revenue effect of that would be a bit under $400 billion per year, roughly in line with the present quantitative needs of the economy. It also meets our three tests of effective stimulus.
First, the funds would flow directly to households through higher take-home pay and indirectly through a reduction in the cost of employment. Economic studies conclude that the benefits of a reduction in the employer portion of the payroll tax are ultimately received by employees. But the immediate effect would be an improvement in the cash flow of credit-starved businesses (as well as being a marginal incentive to keep
Second, the funds would be extremely timely, with the benefits hitting the economy with the first paycheck after the plan was implemented.
Third, by lowering the taxation of labor, the plan would help produce a higher-employment recovery than would otherwise be the case. Since the tax cut should be permanent to have maximum effect, the biggest challenge would be how to make up for the lost revenue once the macroeconomic need for fiscal stimulus had passed. In the short run, effective fiscal stimulus requires that government revenue drop, thereby enriching the private sector, and with the Treasury making the Social Security trust fund whole by way of intergovernmental bookkeeping. Longer term, however, spending cuts or a new source of revenue would be needed.
Given the agenda of the incoming administration, the best source of such funds would be a greenhouse emissions tax. It would be a much more efficient way of achieving the desired environmental objectives of the administration than any of the regulatory or "cap and trade" ideas now being considered. Such programs have failed in Europe since they are so easily gamed. Unlike regulations or cap and trade, moreover, an emissions tax can be phased in and calibrated as macroeconomic conditions permitted, specifically as the unemployment rate declined.
Update: More Pigou Club endorsements here and here.