Will higher tax penalties on investment really spur jobs and faster economic growth? Most commentators would say no. It’s really a matter of economic common sense. But Tim Geithner says, Yes!
Speaking to a group in Washington this week, the Treasury secretary said that extending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans would imperil the fragile economic recovery. He argued that government needs the revenues from those top-end tax hikes. So failure to raise taxes would harm growth. And then he went on to say that the trouble with the wealthy is that they save more of their tax breaks than do other groups.
Okay. Are you confused now? Most people would be.
Let’s start at the top. The coming tax bomb would raise the top marginal tax rate on capital gains from 15 to 20 percent, on dividends from 15 to 20 percent (or perhaps all the way to 39.6 percent), and on top incomes from 35 to 40 percent. Meanwhile, the estate tax could go as high as 55 percent.
Now, it is indisputable that cap-gains, dividends, and estates are essentially investment. What’s more, most successful earners who pay top personal tax rates are by near all accounts the folks who are most likely to save and invest.
But Mr. Geithner is suggesting the economy doesn’t need more saving. This thought was echoed by Jared Bernstein, a top White House economist, who told me in an interview that the saving and investment multipliers for economic growth are way below the stimulative effects of government transfer payments, such as more aid to state and local governments and further extensions of unemployment benefits.
Echoing that thought, the Senate this week voted to approve $26 billion in aid for state and local governments -- partly funded, by the way, by an $11 billion yearly tax increase on the foreign earnings of U.S. multinational corporations. Here, too, a tax on profits is a tax on investment. The Senate also rejected an amendment by South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint that would extend all the Bush tax cuts.
In effect, pulling all this together, the position of the Democratic party in power in Washington is that transfer payments (taxing and borrowing from Peter to pay Paul) are good for growth, and that investment is bad.
Go figure. I guess it’s a battle between the demand side and the investment (or supply) side.