- The Washington Times - Friday, November 16, 2001

All the political signals indicate that the White House and Congress are on a collision course that will produce a

"bipartisan Bush-Daschle" economic stimulus plan.

This is likely to be a plan that doesn't do much good for the economy at a time when the economic indicators are mixed at best and that the economy could use a tax cut lift. That tax cut should be about twice as large as what even the Republicans are seeking.

The recent encouraging news on retail sales and the recent improvement in the stock market can't hide some of the more depressing signs of economic weakness. First, more than 2 million jobs have been lost since the start of the year. And second, thanks to deflationary monetary policy and tax drag, the U.S. has lost $300 billion in output this year.

Even the recent rise in the Dow-Jones has only recaptured a tiny portion of the losses absorbed over the past 20 months. The destruction of asset values is roughly $5 trillion, or almost $100,000 in lost wealth on average for every investor class household in America.

Investment is almost at a standstill. The venture capital industry has fallen by 70 percent this year; the IPO (initial public offering) market is dormant; business capital investment is at its lowest since the last recession. The source of the U.S. downturn is investment, not consumption.

All this is to say that the need for a significant tax cut rescue plan has taken on added importance over recent weeks. The White House is hoping and praying that the 10 Federal Reserve Board interest rate cuts and the modest Bush tax cut enacted earlier this year will revive growth. The administration may be right. But it is sensible to dramatically raise the odds of a full-force recovery in 2002 with a big and bold supply side tax cut package now.

Here are the steps that are needed to make that happen:

(1) Ditch the Bush-Daschle compromise route: it's an economic dead end.

Any bipartisan stimulus bill that meets with the approval of Tom Daschle and Richard Gephardt will not provide much, if any, benefit to the ailing economy.

The Democrat's version of a recovery plan could hardly do more damage to the U.S. economy if it were designed by Osama bin Laden himself. The Democratic plan would devote almost 3 of every 4 new dollars in stimulus to additional government social and infrastructure spending. And it would fund the new spending by raising the top income tax rate in the future.

A real growth-enhancing stimulus plan will never gain the approval of left-wing Democrats like Mr. Daschle and Mr. Gephardt. So don't go there.

(2) Think big: double the stimulus price tag to jump start growth. The current plan is for a stimulus plan of $75 billion to $100 billion, Given the size of the crisis we face at home and abroad, this is puny less than 1 percent of gross domestic product.

Even accounting for the tax cut already enacted, the tax cuts would amount to less than 2 percent of GDP. The Reagan tax cuts, which ended the mini-depression of 1978-82, were 4 percent to 5 percent of GDP. This is the magnitude of tax cuts Republicans in Congress should now be considering.

(3) A capital gains tax cut is a necessity and it's virtually free. A prospective capital gains cut from 20 percent to 10 percent would raise asset values (thus helping the stock market), stimulate investment, and help 75 million investor class Americans.

Best of all: The cost of this tax cut would be close to zero. In 1997 the rate reduction from 28 to 20 percent led to a 70 percent increase in capital gains tax receipts (from $62 billion to $109 billion) and the largest explosion in venture capital funding (from 1997-2000) in American history. A forward-looking capital gains tax cut (applying only to gains after September 11, 2001) would lose at most $25 billion. The economy gets $10 of growth for every $1 revenue cost. This is the very definition of a stimulus. The price tag is less than the ill-designed corporate tax rebate in the House bill.

(4) Government spending won't generate economic growth or jobs: Just ask Japan. Among all industrialized nations, Japan has by far the largest increase in public sector spending over the past decade. The entire island has been cemented over with public works projects. Japan is now building bridges and tunnels as it begins to pave over the ocean with concrete. The demand-side formula has only deepened the depression. The Nikeii index, which stood at near 40,000 in 1990 is now, 11 years later, below 15,000.

Japan now has its highest unemployment since World War II. This is hardly an economic recovery model for the U.S. to emulate. Don't go there, either.

(5) Temporary tax cuts are nearly worthless. Temporary tax cuts shift the timing of economic activity, but not the overall level of economic activity. Some 70 percent of the House tax bill expires after 2002 and 90 percent expires after 2003. This will surely accelerate economic activity now (taxes impact behavior, after all), but will depress economic activity the moment the stimulus wears off. Temporary business investment tax breaks, temporary sales tax holidays, and temporary tax rate cuts could unwittingly prolong the recession, rather than end it. If the tax cut is worth doing, it is worth doing permanently.

Now is not the time for pinching pennies. A tax cut of $200 billion to $300 billion a year is affordable and necessary to get America back to work. The two top priorities for Congress should be to accelerate the top income tax rates in the Bush plan and to cut the capital gains tax in half.

Without a Republican victory on at least one of these two priorities, the stimulus bill will have almost no noticeable effect on growth. A stimulus bill that mostly expands government spending will actually depress the economy and is worse than no stimulus plan at all. Democrats, who are looking to take back Congress in 2002 may be content to settle for that outcome. Republicans have everything to lose including their jobs if they settle on a stimulus bill that won't stimulate.


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