Thursday, January 29, 2009

How About a Payroll Tax Stimulus?

From The Wall Street Journal:

Congress and the Obama administration seem near to deciding the details of an economic stimulus package. Unlike the efforts of President Ronald Reagan and President George W. Bush, who also inherited declining stock markets and shrinking economies, this package is heavily weighted toward direct government spending, transfers to state and local governments, and tax changes that have virtually no effect on marginal tax rates.

Today the Reagan tax cuts are widely viewed as successful. Opinions on the longer-term effects of the Bush tax cuts are more diverse, but the short-term effects of the 2001 and 2003 cuts are generally credited as having been well-timed.

And what of the plan being put forward now? As crafted, it is unlikely to produce the desired results. For a similar amount of money, the government could essentially cut the payroll tax in half, taking three points off the rate for both the employer and the employee. This would put $1,500 into the pocket of a typical worker making $50,000, with a similar amount going to his or her employer. It would provide a powerful stimulus to the spending stream, as well as a significant, six percentage point reduction in the tax burden of employment for people making less than $100,000. The effects would be immediate.

By contrast, the stimulus now under consideration would suffer from the usual problems of government spending. The Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation have calculated that only $170 billion, or about one-fifth of the $816 billion package will be spent in fiscal 2009. An additional $356 billion will be spent in 2010. That leaves $290 billion to be spent when even the most pessimistic forecasters think the economy will be in recovery mode.

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