Tax Reform Will Give Workers A Raise
Lawrence B. Lindsey, The Wall Street Journal
The tax-reform package now working its way through Congress is well-designed and far-reaching. It aims to address the reasons that the current economic recovery has been the most anemic on record. If it becomes law, we can expect economic growth to accelerate to roughly 3.2% for the next three to five years, then settle in at a sustainable pace of around 2.5%. This is well above current official expectations for long-term growth of about 1.9%.
Both history and economics suggest that most of this additional growth will accrue to workers in higher real wages. From 1965 through 2010, the economy grew at an average annual rate of 3.1%. It attained that pace by combining 1.5% employment growth with 3.2% growth in the capital stock and a 1.1% annual rise in total factor productivity. By contrast, the 2.1% average annual growth rate observed from 2011-16 combined the same rapid employment growth with a feeble 1.7% expansion of the capital stock and total factor productivity of just 0.5%. Real wages stagnated.
Any growth-oriented policy must therefore address the problem that, in the current recovery, capital-formation growth was nearly cut in half and productivity growth by more than half. The bill now under consideration does exactly that by focusing on incentives to increase investment in fixed capital. It also promotes entrepreneurship and small-business formation—the ultimate driver of productivity growth. In the current expansion, the pace of new business creation relative to business closure paled dramatically in comparison to the historical average.
The tax package promotes business investment by establishing expensing—immediate write-off—of spending on new equipment. That would bring taxation in line with actual business cash flow. Under current law, businesses must spend money now and receive deductions over time. That particularly hurts new and small businesses, which generally have the most pressing cash-flow needs.