I hate leaving things for the last minute. Having something hanging over my head just bothers me to no end it always get to the point where I can’t sleep until it’s done. The political problem for the tax cuts was that the White House waited until the last minute to deal with it, but probably for the right reasons. President Obama has had major legislative victories which will help a lot of people. Making sure women are paid equally, allowing students to stay on their parents insurance after college, and expanding scholarship opportunities to pay for college, just to name a few. As we’ve all seen those victories didn’t just come over night, and unfortunately for Mr. Obama, there was still one last thing he had to get done.
The latest round of tax cuts which will soon be passed by the Senate is being sold so that it will help everybody, the middle class, working class, and of course the rich. The Center for American Progress is defending the tax cuts and claim it will create 2.2 million jobs. What their analysis assumes though is that businesses will spend money and there will be a demand for their products. But if you look at recent experiences, you should know there is no guarantee that businesses will spend more money just because they have it. In these uncertain times, they are more likely to keep it in case the economy goes even more down hill, just like the banks are doing since they received the bailout money. The business cuts aren’t even targeted anywhere which proves there is no strong demand for anything right now. Otherwise, policies could be enacted to create more of a demand to help a strong area grow even more, which could help overall growth. That absence is just more proof the economy is really up in the air.
The Center got these numbers from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and used their numbers to create their analysis. The CBO however, assumes that the tax cuts will be offset by increasing taxes later so we won’t have to worry about deflation. And it does not even take into account that Social Security taxes are being lowered.
But then there are some analyses I just don’t get at all. The Heritage Foundation argues that only tax cuts can stimulate the economy. They try and differentiate between “Disposable Personal Income” and “Personal Spending.” Now if you’re a middle income family earning $150,000 a year, you have enough to go out to dinner, a movie, and keep up with your mortgage payments. But this family is not going to spend money on anything extravagant. They will not be buying a new house, car, or plan a expensive vacation in this time of uncertainty. So when they receive a tax cut, they will not be spending in the areas where it MIGHT help the businesses feel a demand for their products. And if you are working class family, you are more worried about feeding your children and keeping a roof over your head, and that’s where they will spend the money. Again, not creating a huge demand for anything, and not beneficial to helping the economy. Families don’t think of their money as “disposable” or “personal,” and neither should economists.
Instead, programs should have been created to help families cope with the new economic realities. The best part of the package was getting unemployment benefits extended for a year. For middle class families though, there should have been money spent to pay for their children’s college, or help lower their payments if the banks unexpectedly raised the interest rates. But if you don’t believe me, you can listen to President Reagan’s former budget director David Stockman, who helped invent trickle down economics.
The problem with both of these analyses is that they argue broadly about policies that need to be looked at in a more specific design. As I’ve argued in the past, current economic models do not allow economists to take into account what really matters to families. The tax cuts families receive will be spent on areas that will ensure the families stability. President Obama could have made a strong argument to raise taxes on the wealthy to ensure programs like Social Security and Medicare stay intact. Many people rely on these programs, especially the baby boomers. Who, by the way, will be retiring soon and who will vote in 2012. But by waiting this long to deal with the Bush tax cuts he had no time. The consequences, politically and economically, would have been worse if he allowed everyone’s taxes to be raised. He had to let high income earners taxes stay low. It was a classic no win scenario.
All in all, no harm was done, but unfortunately not a lot of good was done either. So lesson learned, don’t wait for the last minute to get your ducks in a row.