Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington has triggered debate about whether the United States should copy his country’s hands-on, interventionist economic model. But the Middle Kingdom’s feisty “tiger mothers” may provide a better guide for Washington policymakers than turning to Big Government, Chinese style. A new book extolling their tough-love approach could help America escape its debt trap and boost growth.
Lucky this baby didn’t land during the G20 meeting! America’s fiscal judge, the Congressional Budget Office, has produced another nightmare report. The bad news: U.S. debt-to-GDP will hit 858 percent by 2080, roughly ten times today’s level. The “good” news: The economy would implode long before. But avoiding that fate requires just the right balance now between austerity and a push for real, private-sector led economic growth.
The U.S. is pushing its G20 counterparts to focus more on growth than deficits right now. Too bad America — or at least Congress — seems to be doing neither. Not only is Uncle Sam on pace to rack up another $10 trillion (at least) in debt over the next decade, but little is being down to boost growth and jobs. The latest: Democrats are now openly talking about extending the middle-class Bush tax for only a couple of years until, you know, when the economy is booming. Of course, we may still have unemployment at 8 percent then. I could see letting the Bush tax cuts expire and then replacing them with a more pro-growth tax policy. But a $3 trillion tax hike? Nothing pro-growth about that.
Since 1980, some 30 debt-plagued nations have tried to reduce their indebtedness through such austerity measures. In practically all cases, according to a new study by financial giant UBS, the increase in national debt was only slowed, not reversed, by such policy pain.2) Trying to take more from rich people has its limits. Higher and higher income taxes or even wealth taxes create incentive to find tax havens and avoid productive work or capital allocation. 3) Cutting spending is better than raising taxes. Hey, I even have a study to prove it:
A 2009 study by Harvard University’s Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna. It examined 40 years of debt reduction plans by advanced economies and found that “those based upon spending cuts and no tax increases are more likely to reduce deficits and debt over GDP ratios than those based upon tax increases.” They’re also associated with higher economic growth.4) Less spending +more growth. This is my money graf from the piece:
But what if (a) government spending tracks current projections over the next 70 years, (b) government revenue as a percentage of GDP stays at its historic average of 18 percent, and (c) the economy were somehow to grow a bit faster than its 20th-century average, about 3.5 percent. Under those conditions, according a recent study by JPMorgan Chase, a much wealthier America (generating $100 trillion in tax revenue rather than $50 trillion) would be able to afford projected spending without raising taxes. The long-term budget gap would vanish. … Indeed, that is typically how successful countries in the UBS study managed to get their books in order; they grew their economies faster than they added debt. … Easier said than done, of course. … And there is no one policy to help make that happen. It will take a full-spectrum effort: lower taxes on companies and capital, pork-free spending on infrastructure and basic research (beyond health care), an education system that teaches students rather than feathering the nests of teachers’ unions. Every aspect of U.S. public policy will need to be optimized for economic growth.
The good folks at the Heritage Foundation alert me to a House bill proposed by Republicans Jim Jordan and Jason Chaffetz: Here is what H.R. 5209 would do: 1) Eliminate the tax on capital gains; 2) Reduce corporate income tax to 12.5 percent; 3) Kill the death tax; 4) Immediate expensing of business expenses; 5) Reduce payroll tax by half for 2010.
I will say this: As much as I press WH officials to take a victory lap on the economy, they want no part of that — especially not with unemployment at these high levels and the evolving EU debt crisis. David Rosenberg of Gluskin Sheff gives some more reasons for caution:
The Obama deficit commission has its first meeting next week. And when the panel finally releases its report after the election, I am sure it will contain an unsurprising mix of tax increases and spending cuts as a way of dealing with the deficit. But a new report from the wealth management group at UBS looking at public sector debt dismissed that policy prescription: