Misguided Tax Advice from National Review Editor

I have known Ramesh Ponnuru for years, and we have always had a friendly debate about tax policy. He generally thinks my ideas are economically sound, but politically misguided, a reasonable concern given the hybrid class-warfare/special-interest mentality in Washington. But Ramesh’s tax analysis certainly leaves something to be desired. His column in the New York Times asserts that America’s high corporate tax rate is not important for competitiveness – even though researchers have found that the corporate tax burden plays a key role in where jobs are created and how much workers are paid (see this video for more information). Ramesh also argues that present tax rates are not an impediment to “healthy long-term growth.”

Many of our trading partners have cut their corporate taxes, and more and more conservatives want the United States to follow suit. Apparently they haven’t been listening to their own speeches on free trade. Companies compete. Countries, however, are not engaged in a zero-sum contest where one nation’s gain is another’s loss. Cutting corporate tax rates may or may not be a good idea, but we don’t need to make it a priority to preserve our competitiveness. … The primary focus of the Romney and Giuliani tax plans remains high earners. What would be a serious middle-class tax cut? One answer is to expand the tax credit for children. But none of the candidates is proposing to do so, or any other big tax relief for regular folks. … True, an expanded tax credit for children wouldn’t increase economic growth. Growth is good, and more growth is better. But present tax rates are perfectly compatible with healthy long-term growth. There is no pressing need to bring them down to improve growth.

It is true that tax rates are much lower today than they were 30 years ago, and our economy is doing much better as a result, but that hardly is an argument for the status quo. Even if lower tax rates only boost annual growth by “just” two-tenths of one percent, the long-run impact is dramatic because of compounding. Last but not least, Ramesh thinks it is politically wise for Republicans to compete with Democrats by seeking targeted middle-class tax cuts. He admits that child credits and similar narrowly-focused tax cuts will not boost growth, but he argues they will be politically effective. But since when is it the job of Republicans do adopt suboptimal (or even bad) policies for short-term political reasons? And does Ramesh – or anyone else – think the Republicans can out-bid Democrats in offering favors to different constituencies? And if adopting Democratic ideas is the key to Republican political success, how can he explain the political success of Ronald Reagan and the political failure of Bush 41 and Bush 43?