Michael Boskin and the golden rule

A few serious economists, like Michael Boskin at Stanford, are defending the Republican tax plan. Basically, the argument is that the economic growth benefits of stimulating corporate investment in “equipment” outweighs the outright bribery of wealthy campaign donors.

Summers’s own research results dramatically drive home that point. Using data from a variety of countries and time periods, some as short as five years, he and Brad DeLong of the University of California, Berkeley, (who also opposes the current tax bill) have made the strongest case I know that equipment investment can have a large impact on GDP growth. Moreover, the effect they estimate is much larger than in the conventional models used in most studies, including those relied on by government revenue scorers.

“The analysis suggests a strong and causal relationship between equipment investment and economic growth,” according to Summers and DeLong. They concluded that, “an increase of three or four percentage points in the share of GDP devoted to equipment investment is associated with an increase in GDP per worker of one percent per year.” So, to achieve the 0.3% increase in annual GDP growth that is now being debated, equipment investment would need to rise by 1% of GDP per year, sizeable to be sure, but well within the range of historical experience.

Summers and DeLong also calculate that the social returns from equipment investment are far larger than private returns. Thus, they concluded that “a strong case seems to exist for making sure economic policy does not penalize, and in fact, rewards, investors in equipment”; and that “measures that reduce the tax burden on new equipment investment are likely to be especially potent in maximizing the equipment investment engendered per dollar of government revenue forgone.” Finally, they noted that, “policies with an anti-equipment bias include tax rules that subsidize assets that can easily be levered … [and] pieces of equipment are frequently more difficult to use as collateral for debt than are investments in structures.”

This fits with the “golden rule level of capital” you learn about in economics 101, where “capital” is the “plants and equipment” mentioned above. If as a society you are investing too little in capital (and you have to invest just to hold it steady as it wears out, let alone increase it) your rate of growth is lower than it could be. Deficit spending to increase capital is a sort of free lunch in this case, because growth will offset the expenditures. It is not too hard to imagine this sort of logic extending to investments in research and development, education, and public infrastructure. (By the way, if you really care about economic growth, WHERE IS OUR TRILLION DOLLAR INFRASTRUCTURE BILL YOU LYING SONS OF BITCHES!)

Maybe reducing the corporate tax rate in the U.S. really is a good, efficient policy that will boost growth. My questions are first, how do we know the corporate tax cut will be invested in capital rather than just pocketed? Second, are the lost tax revenues hurting investments in education and infrastructure which could be equally or more beneficial? Third, how can the Republicans torpedo the health care system that was finally starting to help the working class and small business owners, and still sleep at night? It’s hypocritical and immoral. And finally, how can we just accept the rot of institutionalized corruption where politicians are elected by dollars rather than votes, when other advanced countries (a club we may not belong too much longer) don’t do that?

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