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Trump’s Tax Plan Is Brilliant Politics and Even Better Economics by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Donald Trump’s tax plan seems to mark a new chapter in his presidency, from floundering around with strange and sometimes scary policies (bombings, border closings, saber rattling) to focusing on what actually matters and what can actually make the difference for the American people and the American economy.

Under Trump’s plan, taxes on corporate profits go from 35% to 15%. They should be zero (like the Bahamas), but this is a good start. Taxes on capital gains go from 23.8% to 20%. Again, it should be zero (as with New Zealand), but it is a start. Rates for all individuals are lowered to three: 10%, 25%, and 35%. The standard deduction for individuals is doubled (politically brilliant). The estate tax and the alternative minimum tax is gone. Popular deductions for charitable giving and mortgage interest are preserved. The hare-brained idea of a “border adjustment tax” is toast.

All of this is wonderful, but the shining light of this plan is the dramatic reduction in taxes on corporate profits. The economics of this are based on a simple but profoundly true insight. Economic growth is the key to a good society. This is where good jobs come from. This is how technology improves. This is what gives everyone a brighter outlook on life. If you can imagine that your tomorrow will be more prosperous and flourishing than today, your life seems to be on track.

Tax Capital, Wreck Prosperity

Where does economic growth come from? For decades dating back perhaps a hundred-plus years, people imagined that it could come from government programs and policy manipulation. Surely there are some levers somewhere in the center of power that can cause this thing we call economic growth. We just need solid experts with power, resources, and intelligence to manage the system.

This turns out to be entirely wrong. It hasn’t worked. Since 2008, government has tried to mastermind an economic recovery. It has floundered. We are coming up on a full decade of this nonsense with economic growth barely crawling along. We are surviving, not thriving, and income growth, capital formation, and entrepreneurial opportunity restricted and punished at every turn.

The Trump tax plan is rooted in a much better idea. Economic growth must come from the private sector. It must come from investment in private capital. The owners of this capital who are doing well and earn profits should be allowed to keep them and invest them. This creates new job opportunities. It allows for more complex production strategies. It expands the division of labor.

The crucial institution here is capital. Sorry, anti-capitalists. It’s just true. Capital can be defined as the produced goods for production, not consumption. It is making things for the purpose of making other things. Think about it. Without capital, you can still have markets, creativity, hard work, enterprise. But so long as you have an absence of capital, you are forever floundering around just working to make and sell things for consumption. This is called living hand to mouth.Without capital, and the private ownership of capital, and security over your property rights, you can’t have economic growth. You can’t have complex production. You can’t raise wages. You can’t live a better life. Every tax on capital, capital formation, capital accumulation, and business profit reduces the security of property rights over capital. This is a sure way to attack economic growth at its source.

And this is precisely what American policy has done. The rest of the world has been wising up about this, reducing taxes on capital for the last 15 years. But the US has languished in the mythology of the past, regarding capital not as a font of prosperity but rather a fund of stagnant resources to be pillaged by planners in government. It is not surprising that this strategy results in slow growth and even permanent recession.

What This Can Do for Growth

I have no regression to present to you but this much I can say out of experience and intuition. If this tax plan goes through, the entire class of entrepreneurs, investors, and merchants will receiving a loud signal: this country is safe for you to realize your dreams and make the dreams of others come true.It wouldn’t surprise me to see GDP growth go from an anemic 1-2% to reach 4% and higher in one year. There is so much pent-up energy in this country. This tax cut will unleash it. And think what it means for the next recession or financial crisis. It prepares the entire country to weather such an event better than we otherwise would.

The beauty of unleashing the power of private capital is that the brilliant results will always be surprising. We don’t know what kind of experimentation in investment and business expansion this will create. This is the nature of a capitalist economy rooted in the freedom of enterprise. It defies our every expectation. No model can forecast with precision the range of results here. We only know that good things will come.

Now, of course, the opponents will talk of the deficit and the national debt. What about the lost revenue? The problem is that every revenue forecast is based on a static model. But an economy rooted in capital formation is not a static one. It is entirely possible that new profits and business expansion will produce even more revenue, even if it is taxed at a lower rate.If you want to cut the deficit, there is only one way: cut spending. I see no evidence that either party wants to do this. Too bad. This should change. But it is both economically stupid and morally unsound to attempt to balance the budget on the backs of taxpayers. Letting people keep more of what they earn is the right thing to do, regardless of government’s fiscal problems.

In the meantime, these pious incantations of the word “deficit, deficit, deficit,” should be seen for what they are: excuses to continue to loot people of their just earnings.

The Politics of It

Already the opponents of this plan are kvetching in the predictable way. This is a tax cut for the rich! Well, yes, and that’s good. Rich capitalists  – sorry for yet another hard truth – are society’s benefactors.

But you know why this line of attack isn’t going to work this time? Take a look at the standard deduction change. It is doubled. Not a single middle-class taxpayer is unaware of what this means. This is because they are profoundly aware of how the tax system works. If you take the standard deduction from $6,200 to $15,000, that means people are going to keep far more of their own money. There is not a single taxpayer in this country who will not welcome that.

This is why it strikes me as crazy for Democrats to inveigh against this plan. Doing so only cements their reputation as the party of pillage. Do they really want the United States to be outcompeted by every other nation in the OECD? What they should do is rally behind this, forgetting all the ridiculous pieties about the deficit and the rich and so on. Do they favor the interests of the American people are not?It’s also fantastic politics to retain the deductions for charitable giving and mortgage interest. These are popular for a reason. They are two of the only ways that average people can save on their tax bill. It always pained me when the GOP would propose a “flat tax” that eliminated these provisions. People are very aware: taking away an existing tax break is a terrible foreshadowing of bad things to come. So this Trump plan dispenses with all that. Good.

As for compliance costs of the current system, the elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax will do worlds of good.

What I love most about this plan is its real-world economic foundation. It embraces a truth that so many want to avoid. If you want jobs, rising wages, and economic growth, you have to stop the war on capital. You have to go the other way. You need to celebrate capital and allow rewards to flow to those who are driving forward economic progress.

It’s a simple but brilliant point. Finally, we’ve got a tax proposal that embraces it.

Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.

What Are Your Odds of Making It to the 1%? by Chelsea German

Your odds of “making it to the top” might be better than you think, although it’s tough to stay on top once you get there.

According to research from Cornell University, over 50 percent of Americans find themselves among the top 10 percent of income-earners for at least one year during their working lives. Over 11 percent of Americans will be counted among the top 1 percent of income-earners (i.e., people making at minimum $332,000) for at least one year.

How is this possible? Simple: the rate of turnover in these groups is extremely high.

Just how high? Some 94 percent of Americans who reach “top 1 percent” income status will enjoy it for only a single year. Approximately 99 percent will lose their “top 1 percent” status within a decade.

Now consider the top 400 U.S. income-earners — a far more exclusive club than the top 1 percent. Between 1992 and 2013, 72 percent of the top 400 retained that title for no more than a year. Over 97 percent retained it for no more than a decade.

HumanProgress.org advisory board member Mark Perry put it well in his recent blog post on this subject:

Whenever we hear commentary about the top or bottom income quintiles, or the top or bottom X% of Americans by income (or the Top 400 taxpayers), a common assumption is that those are static, closed, private clubs with very little dynamic turnover. …

But economic reality is very different — people move up and down the income quintiles and percentile groups throughout their careers and lives.

What if we look at economic mobility in terms of accumulated wealth, instead of just annual income (as the latter tends to fluctuate more)?

The Forbes 400 lists the wealthiest Americans by total estimated net worth, regardless of their income during any given year. Over 71 percent of Forbes 400 listees — and their heirs — lost their top 400 status between 1982 and 2014.

So, the next time you find yourself discussing the very richest Americans, whether by wealth or income, keep in mind the extraordinarily high rate of turnover among them.

And even if you never become one of the 11.1 percent of Americans who fleetingly find themselves in the “top 1 percent” of US income-earners, you’re still quite possibly part of the global top 1 percent.

Cross-posted from HumanProgress.org.

Chelsea German

Chelsea German

Chelsea German works at the Cato Institute as a Researcher and Managing Editor of HumanProgress.org.

The Speech Pope Francis Should Have Given by Lawrence W. Reed

Pope Francis, Address to the United States Congress — September 24, 2015:

Members of the U.S. Congress and the American people:

I come before you in glowing admiration for the historic accomplishments of your spirit of enterprise. In the pursuit of personal gain — the desire to improve your lives while serving others in the process — you Americans have fed, clothed and housed more people at higher levels than all the combined efforts of humanitarians worldwide throughout history.

In my profession, we speak of “collecting” money. Americans practically coined the phrase, “making money.” After 36 hours in the United States, I now realize that we can’t collect it until you first make it, and while both activities are motivated at least in part by a shared desire to “do good,” the one that your risk-taking, visionary entrepreneurs, investors, builders, inventors and job creators do so well is by far the bigger challenge.

I’ve said some things lately that gave you reason to think I was hostile to the dynamic spirit of enterprise that made this country a beacon for the world and the most generous society in history. I’ve spoken about excessive greed in the capitalist system, but now I realize that no variant of socialism ever does away with greed. It simply ensures that the only way a person can satisfy it is by using his political connections to steal what he wants, to pillage hapless value-creators while condemning the poor to a life of politicized dependency. I’m a little ashamed now that I fell for such nonsense, but I am happy to be here to begin my education in economics and politics in earnest.

One of the beautiful things about your country is the intellectual diversity. One example is my conversations with American Christians who have spent much time in thought and prayer on the question of Jesus’s views on property and politics. In my conversations, we have discussed how Jesus, the man whose teachings I regard as sacred and divine, never once argued for redistribution of income by political power.

While he disdained the worship of money, he never disparaged the crucial role of money as a medium of exchange or as a wealth-creating motivator. I had apparently forgotten Jesus’s advice (in the Book of Luke) to a man who asked him to redistribute some wealth. “Who made me a judge or divider over you?” he asked. I think as legislators, you should ask that very question of yourselves.

So rather than read a stock speech of clichés and finger-wagging, I’m simply going to implore you to keep learning, as I have dedicated my life to doing. And before any of us are quick to jump to policy prescriptions on things about which we know so little, let’s all remember what the Austrian economist Murray Rothbard advised:

It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a “dismal science.” But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.

Thank you.

Unfortunately, this was not the speech the Pope delivered to Congress today.

The good news is that you don’t have to wait for the Pope’s next encyclical to benefit from the insights on property, economics, and Jesus’s teachings on them that the Pope is no doubt gleaning on his American tour.

You can order a copy of Rendering Unto Caesar: Was Jesus a Socialist?yourself. In fact, you can even order multiple copies, get a bulk discount, and start informing others of the important principles the pamphlet champions! What are you waiting for?

Lawrence W. Reed
Lawrence W. Reed

Lawrence W. (“Larry”) Reed became president of FEE in 2008 after serving as chairman of its board of trustees in the 1990s and both writing and speaking for FEE since the late 1970s.

Real Heroes: Ludwig Erhard — The Man Who Made Lemonade from Lemons by LAWRENCE W. REED

How rare and refreshing it is for the powerful to understand the limitations of power, to actually repudiate its use and, in effect, give it back to the myriad individuals who make up society. George Washington was such a person. Cicero was another. So was Ludwig Erhard, who did more than any other man or woman to denazify the German economy after World War II. By doing so, he gave birth to a miraculous economic recovery.

“In my eyes,” Erhard confided in January 1962, “power is always dull, it is dangerous, it is brutal and ultimately even dumb.”

By every measure, Germany was a disaster in 1945 — defeated, devastated, divided, and demoralized — and not only because of the war. The Nazis, of course, were socialist (the name derives from National Socialist German Workers Party), so for more than a decade, the economy had been “planned” from the top. It was tormented with price controls, rationing, bureaucracy, inflation, cronyism, cartels, misdirection of resources, and government command of important industries. Producers made what the planners ordered them to. Service to the state was the highest value.

Thirty years earlier, a teenage Ludwig Erhard heard his father argue for classical-liberal values in discussions with fellow businessmen. A Bavarian clothing and dry goods entrepreneur, the elder Wilhelm actively opposed the kaiser’s increasing cartelization of the German economy. Erhard biographer Alfred C. Mierzejewski writes of Ludwig’s father,

While by no means wealthy, he became a member of the solid middle class that made its living through hard work and satisfying the burgeoning consumer demand of the period, rather than by lobbying for government subsidies or protection as many Junkers did to preserve their farms and many industrialists did to fend off foreign competition.

Young Ludwig resented the burdens that government imposed on honest and independent businessmen like his father. He developed a lifelong passion for free market competition because he understood what F.A. Hayek would express so well in the 1940s: “The more the state plans, the more difficult planning becomes for the individual.”

Severely wounded by an Allied artillery shell in Belgium in 1918, Ludwig’s liberal values were strengthened by his experience in the bloody and futile First World War. After the tumultuous hyperinflation that gripped Germany in the years after the war, he earned a PhD in economics, took charge of the family business, and eventually headed a marketing research institute, which gave him opportunities to write and speak about economic issues.

Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s deeply disturbed Erhard. He refused to have anything to do with Nazism or the Nazi Party, even quietly supporting resistance to the regime as the years wore on. The Nazis saw to it that he lost his job in 1942, when he wrote a paper outlining his ideas for a free, postwar economy. He spent the next few years as a business consultant.

In 1947, Erhard achieved the chairmanship of an important monetary commission. It proved to be a vital stepping stone to the position of director of economics for the Bizonal Economic Council, a creation of the American and British occupying authorities. It was there that he could finally put his views into policy and transform his country in the process.

Erhard’s beliefs had by this time solidified into unalterable convictions. Currency must be sound and stable. Collectivism was deadly nonsense that choked the creative individual. Central planning was a ruse and a delusion. State enterprises could never be an acceptable substitute for the dynamism of competitive, entrepreneurial markets. Envy and wealth redistribution were evils.

“It is much easier to give everyone a bigger piece from an ever growing cake,” he said, “than to gain more from a struggle over the division of a small cake, because in such a process every advantage for one is a disadvantage for another.”

Erhard advocated a fair field and no favors. His prescription for recovery? The state would set the rules of the game and otherwise leave people alone to wrench the German economy out of its doldrums. The late economist William H. Peterson reveals what happened next:

In 1948, on a June Sunday, without the knowledge or approval of the Allied military occupation authorities (who were of course away from their offices), West German Economics Minister Ludwig Erhard unilaterally and bravely issued a decree wiping out rationing and wage-price controls and introducing a new hard currency, the Deutsche-mark. The decree was effective immediately. Said Erhard to the stunned German people: “Now your only ration coupon is the mark.”

The American, British, and French authorities, who had appointed Erhard to his post, were aghast. Some charged that he had exceeded his defined powers, that he should be removed. But the deed was done. Said U.S. Commanding General Lucius Clay: “Herr Erhard, my advisers tell me you’re making a terrible mistake.” “Don’t listen to them, General,” Erhard replied, “my advisers tell me the same thing.”

General Clay protested that Erhard had “altered” the Allied price-control program, but Erhard insisted he hadn’t altered price controls at all. He had simply “abolished” them. In the weeks and months to follow, he issued a blizzard of deregulatory orders. He slashed tariffs. He raised consumption taxes, but more than offset them with a 15 percent cut in income taxes. By removing disincentives to save, he prompted one of the highest saving rates of any Western industrialized country. West Germany was awash in capital and growth, while communist East Germany languished. Economist David Henderson writes that Erhard’s motto could have been: “Don’t just sit there;undo something.”

The results were stunning. As Robert A. Peterson writes,

Almost immediately, the German economy sprang to life. The unemployed went back to work, food reappeared on store shelves, and the legendary productivity of the German people was unleashed. Within two years, industrial output tripled. By the early 1960s, Germany was the third greatest economic power in the world. And all of this occurred while West Germany was assimilating hundreds of thousands of East German refugees.

It was a pace of growth that dwarfed that of European countries that received far more Marshall Plan aid than Germany ever did.

The term “German economic miracle” was widely used and understood as it happened in the 1950s before the eyes of the world, but Erhard himself never thought of it as such. In his 1958 book, Prosperity through Competition, he opined, “What has taken place in Germany … is anything but a miracle. It is the result of the honest efforts of a whole people who, in keeping with the principles of liberty, were given the opportunity of using personal initiative and human energy.”

The temptations of the welfare state in the 1960s derailed some of Erhard’s reforms. His three years as chancellor (1963–66) were less successful than his tenure as an economics minister. But his legacy was forged in that decade and a half after the war’s end. He forever answered the question, “What do you do with an economy in ruins?” with the simple, proven and definitive recipe: “Free it.”

For additional information, see:

David R. Henderson on the “German Economic Miracle
Alfred C. Mierzejewski’s Ludwig Erhard: A Biography
Robert A. Peterson on “Origins of the German Economic Miracle
Richard Ebeling on “The German Economic Miracle and the Social Market Economy
William H. Peterson on “Will More Dollars Save the World?

Lawrence W. Reed

Lawrence W. (“Larry”) Reed became president of FEE in 2008 after serving as chairman of its board of trustees in the 1990s and both writing and speaking for FEE since the late 1970s.

EDITORS NOTE: Each week, Mr. Reed will relate the stories of people whose choices and actions make them heroes. See the table of contents for previous installments.

Gov. Romney Is Correct Cultural Differences Explain Israeli Economic Success

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has stated that Governor Mitt Romney was correct to note, as he did during a fundraiser dinner in Jerusalem, that Israeli culture plays a large part in Israel’s superior economic performance over the Palestinians.

Governor Romney said “Culture makes all the difference … And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things … As you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel, which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality. And that is also between other countries that are near or next to each other. Chile and Ecuador, Mexico and the United States.”

Palestinian Authority (PA) official Saeb Erekat has denounced Governor Romney’s statement as “racist.” Erekat said, “It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation … It seems to me this man lacks information, knowledge, vision and understanding of this region and its people” Ashley Parker & Richard A. Oppel, ‘Romney Trip Raises Sparks at a 2nd Stop,’ New York Times, July 30, 2012).

ZOA National Chairman of the Board Dr. Michael Goldblatt said, “Governor Romney was correct to observe that culture plays a decisive role in economic performance. In particular, he was right to note that this has produced widely divergent results in economic performance between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“Israel has a culture of private enterprise, competition, innovation and technology and has had it since its earliest days. In contrast, the PA has been bedeviled from its inception with crony capitalism, endemic corruption, distortions of the market and other malpractices which also affect its economy in drastic ways, not least in the loss of foreign investor confidence.”

“Israeli society is characterized by religious, economic and personal freedom. By contrast, the PA is unsafe for political dissidents or religious or sexual minorities. Bethlehem, under PA control since 1995, has seen its traditionally Christian population dwindle to less than 20%. In Hamas-controlled Gaza, there has been an even sharper flight of Christians. And Palestinian gays who wish to live without fear of death or imprisonment often have only one option: refuge in Israel. It makes sense that a society with Israel’s open and broadly liberal culture would be more stable, better educated, attract greater investment and produce more and better goods.

“Palestinian culture is also afflicted with incitement to hatred and murder, glorification of violence and terror. One only has to look at PA TV programs, radio broadcasts and media features to see that it is the terrorist, not the entrepreneur, who is honored. The PA doesn’t name streets, schools and sports teams after scientists and inventors. It names them after suicide bombers and jailed terrorists.

“In the PA, as the ZOA has pointed out on many occasions, a public square, a summer camp for youth, a computer center and several events have been named in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, who led the terrorists who carried out the 1978 coastal road terrorist attack on an Israeli bus, murdering 37, including a dozen children.

Many Americans will recall that Palestinian enthusiasm for terrorism extends beyond Israel to the U.S., as those Americans who saw on their TV screens Palestinians celebrating the 9/11 attacks need no reminder.

“Saeb Erekat claims that Governor Romney’s statement was racist. This is predictably absurd: there was no reference in Governor Romney’s comparison of Israel and the Palestinians to religion or ethnicity, let alone race. He referred to culture, which indeed can make a major difference. A society which aspires to terrorism and ‘martyrdom’ rather than innovation and wealth-creation is going to perform poorly by comparison in the economic sphere.

“Erekat objects that the PA cannot perform well economically because it is under ‘occupation.’ Some people cannot live without alibis and need to blame others for failure, as Erekat does here. But the facts repudiate this shop-worn, opportunistic charge. Before the PA was established – in other words, when the areas now controlled by the PA were under Israeli control – economic growth was steady among Palestinians. Economic performance tapered off immediately after the PA assumed control in 1994, following the Oslo Accords, and all the attendant problems mentioned earlier came into play.”

“Even then, the PA was doing better in the mid-1990s than it was to do after 2000, when it launched a terrorist war against Israel. Naturally, joint projects, Israeli (and much foreign) investment came to a halt and the resultant hostilities destroyed or damaged much infrastructure. You can have war, but rarely can you have war and development. The Israeli economy also suffered from this war but, because of the general soundness of Israel’s economic culture, it recovered much more quickly once Palestinian terrorism was brought under control.”

“On this point, Governor Romney is right and his critics are wrong.”

NOTE: On May 1, 2012 the author returned from a 10 day visit to Israel and observed the vibrant economy and prosperity in the Israeli community he visited.

RELATED COLUMN:

Culture Does Matter by Mitt Romney in the National Review