May 3, 1963
and Spending V
Forty years ago Henry Ford proved, to the amazement of the business community, that you can sometimes increase profits by reducing prices. This year President Kennedy is asking Congress to try something similar -- to increase long-run federal revenues by reducing taxes. While much debate and uncertainty lies ahead, I'm convinced that, with prompting from both management and labor, the Congress will pass some kind of tax cut this year. General support for the idea has come from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO and many other sectors of our economy, as well as leaders of both political parties, including Governor Rockefeller.
In four recent newsletters I have explored our present tax structure, recent history of the federal budget, the conflict over "big spending", and responsible ways of reducing federal expenditures. All of this time the House Ways and Means Committee has been studying the President's proposed tax program; in a few more weeks it is expected the Committee will report out what will become the Revenue Act of 1963. Now, in this report, I want to summarize the President's proposals and what he seeks to accomplish with them.
WHOSE TAXES WILL BE REDUCED?
If enacted, the President's proposals would bring
lower taxes on the current incomes of nearly all individuals and
corporations. The cuts for 1963 would look something like this:
However, this would only be the beginning. Additional
reductions would take effect in 1964 and 1965 as follows:
EFFECT ON INDIVIDUALS
The combined effect of the rate cuts and reforms proposed by the President would be an average 18% tax reduction for all individual taxpayers. Greatest reductions would be in the lower income brackets -- as high as 40% for those earning less than $3,000 per year, as low as 9% for those with incomes over $50,000.
Here are three typical examples showing how the
tax cuts would work out in the next three years for a married couple
with two children.
EFFECT ON CORPORATIONS
For corporations, the tax rate reductions would average nearly 11%. Largest reductions would go to corporations in the lower tax brackets -- as high as 27% for companies earning less than $25,000, as little as 10% for those earning more than $1 million annually. At the end of the three-year reduction program the highest corporate rate would be 47%, down from the present 52%.
Here are some typical examples of taxes under
the proposed changes:
'RECAPTURING' PART OF THE REVENUE LOSS
We have noted that the government would lose
in revenues under this plan $3.1 billion the first year, $9.5 billion the
second year and $13.5 billion the third and succeeding years. However,
experts are agreed that the net loss to the government would be substantially
less than these figures. There are two reasons:
A LOOK AT THE REFORMS
The reforms are of two kinds: "loophole openers", which grant additional deductions and exemptions to relieve special hardships or encourage business growth; and "loophole closers" which bring in new revenue by broadening the tax base and eliminating unfair special preferences. (Note: These terms are used as convenient tags, and not to suggest that either the "closers" or "openers'' are necessarily bad.) The "closers" would bring in more new revenue than would be lost by the "openers." None of these reforms would apply to 1963 income. In 1964 and succeeding years the net gain of "closers" over "openers " would be $3.3 billion. Subtracting this amount from the revenue losses indicated above reveals a net loss to the government of $3. 1 billion for 1963, $6.2 billion for 1964, and $10.2 billion for 1965 and succeeding years.
Important "loophole openers" include a proposal to permit low-bracket taxpayers to increase their "standard deductions" (for taxes, charitable contributions, etc.), provide taxpayers over 65 years of age a $300 credit against taxes otherwise due, and allow deductions for research and development activity.
Among the "loophole closers" are proposals to limit charitable and other deductions to that amount in excess of 5% of the taxpayers' adjusted gross income, repeal special tax treatment for dividend income, and extend the minimum holding period necessary to qualify for long-term capital gains treatment from the present six months to one year.
TWO KINDS OF 'FEEDBACK'
There are really two different kinds of "feedback"
effects from a tax cut of this kind. The plan anticipates that, in time,
these will bring larger revenues from lower tax rates (the Henry
Ford theory discussed earlier.) They are:
THE '62 TAX CUTS FOR BUSINESS -- A STRONG ARGUMENT
For an administration supposedly anti-business, the Kennedy Administration has already given business more tax relief than at any time since World War II. Last year the Congress, at the President's urging, enacted a 7% investment credit designed to give business a $1.1 billion tax cut for purposes of expansion. In addition, new, liberalized depreciation allowances were ordered, increasing the business tax cut to $3.6 billion. According to the Wall Street journal this tax incentive already is having an effect. It is estimated that plant expansion will be increased $3 - 4 billion this year, or 8 to 10% over previous expansion plans. All of this expansion is creating jobs and putting men to work, and it may partly explain the big drop in unemployment noted last month.
If this relatively small tax cut for business has actually caused this surprising pick-up in business activity, it is not difficult to imagine what a general tax cut of the kind proposed by the President might accomplish.
WILL THE SIXTIES FINALLY SOAR?
All of us have been disappointed by the sluggishness of our economy in the first three years of what was billed as the "Soaring Sixties." However, in the last few weeks a strange and happy development appears to be taking place. Instead of an oncoming recession, which was widely predicted, business is beginning to "take off."
For example, the Kiplinger Washington Letter
reports the following encouraging facts:
Similarly, U. S. News and World Report informs its readers of a business trend that is "strongly upward" and adds, "If taxes are cut, effective next January 1, the upward trend will get added push, and will continue longer. * Significantly, the magazine predicts personal income will reach $473 billion and corporate profits $55 billion by this time next year, even without a tax cut. These advances would go far toward realizing the three-year goals cited above.
Some economists say this brighter picture is partly the result of anticipation of tax reduction; if that is so, we already have an indication of what a tax cut can do. In any case, authorities agree the tax cut itself will brighten the picture even more.
YES, BUT W-H-E-N WILL WE BALANCE THE BUDGET?
I believe this country can't forever continue
a policy of deficit spending, planned or unplanned. There are three ways
to balance the budget:
The President and the bankers and economists who advise him have chosen the third course as the one offering the least danger and the soundest, long range promise. Realistically, I believe they have chosen the only approach that is a live possibility today.
HOW LARGE IS THE FEDERAL DEBT?
The federal debt is something which I view with concern and caution, but ability to carry debt depends on one's income. No one would suggest that the federal government's "line of credit" should be limited to that of a private person or even a giant corporation like General Motors. Obviously the federal government can afford to carry more debt than a state or even a combination of many states. What, then, is the level at which the debt becomes excessive or dangerous?
Homely examples can be misleading, but I believe it might be helpful to compare recent changes in the federal debt with comparable changes in the debt of a private person. The present federal debt of $303 billion is 52% of our $578 billion annual income (Gross National Product). This is similar to the position of a man who earns $10,000 per year and owes a total of $5,200 on his house, automobile and personal belongings. I don't know many $10,000-a-year men who owe that little.
Now let's go back to 1946. In that year our debt was $269 billion against an annual income of $211 billion. On the same basis our $10,000-a-year man would have been carrying a debt of $4,616 on a 1946 income of $3,650. Thus, even though he had added about $600 to his indebtedness, we would have to say he was decidedly better off today. The same is true with the federal government.
WHAT'S REALLY BEST FOR THE COUNTRY?
I have tried to present on these pages the President's case for a substantial tax cut, but you are entitled to ask, "How do you stand, and how will you vote?"
Generally, I have misgivings about deficit-financing of this kind; it squarely contradicts the kind of findamental family-type economics I learned in my youth. As readers of these reports will recall, I have sponsored legislation which would establish flexible tax rates and compel balanced budgets over every four-year period.
But few legislators, and even fewer economists, support my proposals; when the vote comes, my choice will doubtless be between (a) continuing our present tax schedule and (b) adopting the kind of tax-cut bill eventually produced by the Ways and Means Committee. My decision will rest on the content of that bill and the case the Committee makes for it.
Regardless of my vote, I predict passage of a tax-cut bill this year. New generations sometimes prove that new theories will work. By an interesting coincidence Henry Ford II is one of the new-generation business leaders urging our new-generation President to take this course. For the sake of the country's future, I hope they are right.
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