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Why Worry About the Debt

By Scott D. Gillette
sgillette@politicalusa.com

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The most recent dividend and capital gains cuts enacted by Congress and the Bush Administration demonstrate a positive development within the past generation. In the 1970s, tax cuts were considered dangerous and eccentric. Today, it is the conventional wisdom that tax cuts actually stimulate economic growth without inflation. This is huge progress.

But this positive trend is dampened because too many people cling to the notion that the enlarging deficits, exacerbated by the tax cuts, create too great a burden on the national debt, and the nationís collective prospects.

Well, the deficit does not matter. Neither does the debt. So forget about it.  

When I walk down the streets of midtown Manhattan , I often see the national debt clock climbing by thousands before my eyes. I can see why so many people feel overwhelmed. $6.4 trillion and counting! My God, weíre ruined! It does sound like a lot, and a shared sacrifice does sound appropriate. Right?

Nope. All countries have debts. They have to maintain a modern economy. The big question is this: can the countries pay them back? Thatís why the key statistic is to measure the national debt as a percentage of the nationís output (GNP) for any given year.

The United States actually has the lowest debt to GNP ratio in the industrialized world. Japanís ratio is twice that of Americaís. So, the U.S. has plenty of room to maneuver, and even more wiggle room if history is taken into account. Michael Darda of Polyconomics pointed out to clients that ďeven if we ran deficits of $400 billion for the next 10 years, our debt to GNP ratio would return to 1992 levels.Ē 

But what about the record deficits weíre running now? Well, as a percentage of the economy, they are not record deficits at all, but quite manageable. Second, when one considers the enormous costs incurred by the recession, terrorism, two wars, corporate scandals, the deficit is incredibly light.

Now, I donít mean to minimize the loss of 2.5 million jobs of the past few years. But that condition just proves how urgent tax cuts have become.

Hereís the most important point: the deficits we are running now can increase so long as they are incurred to improve long-term economic prospects. Hereís an example. Letís say the government enacts an educational program for children and prisoners that costs $50 billion a year over several years. Letís then say that the huge costs of putting a person into prison are replaced with tax revenues because these same people are working, and this swing comes to $100 billion a year. In the case, the original deficit was well spent.

Now, I donít know if that specific federal program would be wise or not. But tax cuts that encourage business activity and investment, and the most recent cuts are just that, represent a sure thing and a good investment. They will increase economic activity, guaranteed, so the government will recoup the costs.

So Republicans, the party of tax cuts, should push for more tax cuts, regardless of whether the country has a large deficit or large surplus. Then let others worry about the deficit.

Jim Antle, a fellow writer and supply-side comrade, recently argued otherwise: ďSupply-siders contributed to the undoing of their own policies by failing to favor reductions in government spending commensurate with the reductions in taxes they achieved.Ē But this means Republicans have to rob the political interests of Peter in order to pay Paul.

Remember the Contract with America? It proved that Republicans cannot be a majority party if they want to reduce spending without offering the American electorate anything in return. Iím not saying that cutting government is a bad thing. But letís face it, itís not a winning political strategy, and it makes future tax cuts less likely, because there wonít be a majority of Republicans to enact future tax cuts.

I admit Iíd like the GOP to be a one-trick pony. Cut prohibitive taxes and marginal rates now, tomorrow, and forever. These tax cuts will depress revenues to varying degrees in the short-term, but increase them in the long-term.

After implementing those tax cuts, some may try to reduce government spending. That would be fine. Or the government will keep spending money as quickly as ever. Thatís O.K. too. Because deficit levels and the percentage at which federal spending increases pale in comparison to how healthy the economy is. Iíd love to have $600 billion deficits if it meant that the unemployment falls below 4%, depressed areas around the country turn around, and tens of millions of individuals find opportunity where once they did not exist.   

So when Mr. Antle says, ďmost supply-siders were content to lower marginal rates and hope that the resulting economic growth would generate enough revenue to continue funding the welfare state,Ē heís right. It should stay that way, too. For the long-term interests of the country, I submit itís the best way to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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