Ronald Reagan’s Reaganomics Increased GDP and Tax Revenue, Decreased Unemployment and Tamed Inflation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 8th, 2011

Ronald Reagan’s Supply-Side Reaganomics caused an Economic Boom

Politics is a struggle.  Between those on the Left.  And those on the Right.  And nowhere is it more partisan than when it is about one subject.  ReaganomicsRonald Reagan‘s supply-side economics.  Of the Austrian School.  That the Left belittles as trickle-down economics. 

His tax cuts during the Eighties sparked an economic boom.  No one denies this.  In fact, life was very good during the Eighties.  So good that the Left denounce those years as the Decade of Greed.  “Yes, a lot of people got rich,” the Left says.  “But at what cost?”  And then they point to those ‘soaring’ Reagan deficits.  Peaking at about $221.2 billion in 1986.  Or about $358.3 billion adjusted for inflation.  (Pretty tame by today’s standards.  Barack Obama has one in the $1.6 trillion neighborhood.)  But did Reagan cause them with his tax cuts?

To answer this question we look at historical GDP (gross domestic product).  And tax receipts.  From the Seventies and the Eighties.  From the heyday of Keynesian economics.  After the Nixon Shock in 1971. That ended the ‘gold standard‘.  When Nixon said, “I am now a Keynesian in economics.”  And through Reaganomics.  All dollar amounts are constant 2005 dollars (shown in billions).  These are graphed along with the top marginal tax rate, inflation and the unemployment rate.

(Sources: GDP, tax revenue, top marginal tax rate, inflation, unemployment)

Inflation Eroded GDP and Raised Unemployment in the Seventies

There are two relatively flat plateaus on the GDP graph.  Flat or falling GDP growth indicates a recession.  One starting sometime after 1972.  The other one around 1979. 

Both of these correspond to a spike in the inflation rate.  This happens because inflation erodes GDP.  By raising prices.  Higher prices mean we buy less.  Which means less GDP.  And higher prices tend to inflate business profits.  Where profit gains are from inflation.  Not from selling more stuff.  Which means less GDP.

Inflation is one half of the business cycle.  Which is a boom-bust cycle.  A booming economy.  And a busting recession.  Inflation.  And deflation.  Growth.  And recession. 

During growth there’s inflation.  Prices go up as more people want to buy the same things.  Bidding up prices.  The unemployment rate falls.  Because businesses are hiring more people.  To expand.  To meet this demand. 

When they expand too much there’s too much stuff on the market.  People can’t buy it all.  So prices go down.  To encourage people to buy.  And businesses cut back.  Lay people off.  With fewer people working there’s fewer people to buy that excess supply.  So prices fall more.  And businesses lay more people off.  To reflect the falling demand.  Which increases the unemployment rate.

The business cycle, then, corrects prices.  And readjusts supply to demand.  Keynesian economics was going to change this, though.  By removing the recession part.   Through permanent inflation.  At least, that was the plan.  The two plateaus in the GDP graph shows that the business cycle is still here despite their best efforts.   

And the Keynesians only made things worse.  By causing double-digit inflation.  By creating more demand than existed in the market.  People used that easy money.  To buy things they wouldn’t have otherwise bought.  Creating ‘bubbles’ of inflated prices.  Which are corrected by recessions.  And the greater the bubble, the greater the recession.

Easy Monetary Policy (i.e., Printing Money) made Inflation Worse in the Seventies

Government spent a lot during the Seventies.  A lot of that was Keynesian spending paid for with easy monetary policy (i.e., printing money).  Something governments can only do.  They are the only ones that can say, “Use these paper bills as legal tender.  We guarantee it.”

Making fiat money is easy.  But there is a cost.  The more you make the more you devalue your currency.  That’s the cost of inflation.  Money loses some of its purchasing power.  The greater the inflation the greater loss of purchasing power. 

They printed a lot of money during the late Seventies.  So much that the dollar lost a lot of its purchasing power.  Hence the double-digit inflation.

Paul Volcker was a Federal Reserve chairman.  He started in the last year of Jimmy Carter‘s presidency.  And remained chairman for about 8 years.  He raised interest rates severely.  To constrict the money supply.  To pull a lot of those excess dollars out of circulation.  This caused a bad recession for Reagan.  But it killed the double-digit inflation beast.  This sound money policy was a tenet of Reaganomics.  Which was an integral part of the Eighties boom.

Reagan’s Tax Cuts Increased both GDP and Tax Revenue

The hallmark of Reaganomics, of course, is low taxes.  Reagan cut the top marginal tax rate.  He dropped it from 70% to 28% in four cuts.  After the first cut GDP took off.   Because rich people reentered the economy. 

They weren’t parking their money in investments that helped them avoid paying the top marginal tax rate.  They were starting up businesses.  Or buying business.  Creating jobs.  Because the lower tax rates provided an incentive to earn business profits.  And not settle for lower interest income.  Or capital gains. 

For business profits can be far greater than interest earned on ‘income tax avoiding’ investments.  Such as government bonds.  And if we don’t penalize rich people for risk-taking they will take risks.  Create another Microsoft.  Or Apple.  But they are less likely to do that if they know we will penalize them for it.  And that’s what a high marginal tax rate is.  A penalty.  Remove this penalty and they will choose risky profits over safe interest every time.  And make a lot of jobs along the way.

And this is what they did during the Eighties.  Their ‘greed’ created a boom in employment.  A rising GDP.  Accompanied with a falling unemployment rate.  Rich people were pulling their money out of tax shelters.  And putting it into businesses.  Where they could make fat profits.  And making fat profits in business requires employees.  Jobs.  Unlike making money with safe tax-sheltered investments. 

Tax revenue increased.  There were more business profits.  And more business income taxes on those profits.  There were more jobs.  More employees in the workforce.  Paying more payroll taxes.  And more personal income taxes

Successful businesses made more rich people.  And more rich people pay more income taxes than fewer rich people.  A lot more.  The top marginal tax rate was lower.  But there were more businesses and people paying taxes.   Because the lower rates created more taxpayers.  And richer taxpayers to tax.  Which increased overall tax revenue.

Tax Revenue Increased under Reaganomics but Government Spending simply Increased More

So to summarize the data during Reaganomics, GDP grew, tax revenue grew, unemployment fell and inflation was tame.  All the things you want in a healthy economy.  And this all happened when the top marginal tax rate was cut from 70% to 28%. 

So, no, the Reagan deficits were NOT caused by the Reagan tax cuts.  That’s a myth created by the Left to revise history.  To recast the successful policies of Ronald Reagan as failures.  So they can continue in their tax and spend ways.

Those deficits were a spending problem.  Not a revenue problem.  For tax revenue increased after the tax cuts.  So why the deficits?  Because government spending simply increased more.

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