AEI Tax Forum

Chris Edwards, Photo by Peter Holden for AEI   Photo by Peter Holden Photography for AEI

I was a panelist at an American Enterprise Institute forum today discussing the proliferation of federal tax credits, particularly for low-income families.

AEI scholars Kevin Hassett, Larry Lindsey, and Aparna Mathur have a draft paper that looks at the idea of consolidating current individual credits into one supercredit. The idea would be to simplify the system and reduce the economic distortions created by these credits, which are valued at about $170 billion in 2009.

My observations included:

  • Obama’s Make Work Pay credit is valued at about $60 billion per year, much of which is “refundable.” (That means it is partly a spending increase not a tax cut). Coincidentally, Obama’s proposed tax hikes for higher-income individuals are also about $60 billion per year. So Obama is damaging the economy with “Make Work Not Pay” tax increases at the top in order to fund dubious work incentives at the bottom. It makes no economic sense.
  •  The AEI scholars provide interesting calculations about how we could make the $170 billion of redistribution in these credits simpler. That’s fine as far as it goes, but I’d like to end the redistribution altogether. Let’s provide a large basic exemption in the tax code for folks at the bottom, but we don’t need any complex credits. Instead, let’s repeal federal policies that damage the budgets of struggling families at the bottom, such as import barriers that raise the price of clothing and federal milk cartels that raise the price of  dairy products.
  • Here’s my compromise redistribution plan. Let’s chop the $170 billion in tax credits in half and use the extra funds to cut the corporate income tax rate. With a purely static calculation, that would allow cutting the corporate rate  from 35% to 25%. Assuming some behaviorial feedbacks, the $85 billion in credit savings would easily allow us to reduce the corporate rate to 20% or so.
  • What do corporate taxes have to do with the workers who currently get all these tax credits? As Hassett and Mathur explained in a 2006 paper, corporate tax cuts would increase investment, improve productivity, and that in turn would raise wages of average American workers. We don’t need President Obama’s fancy new Make Work Pay credits. Instead, we need to cut the corporate tax rate to make the economy boom and raise worker’s wages and incomes in the private marketplace.