Personal saving rose again in the second quarter. “Does this mean the stimulus tax cut has failed, as the 2008 tax cut stimulus did?”, asks The National Journal.
Martin Feldstein and others predicted that the tax-cut component of the 2009 fiscal stimulus package would have substantially less expansionary bang-for-the-buck than the spending component of the package, because much of the tax cut would be saved, as had been the case with the 2008 tax cut. (“Bang for the buck” in this case could be defined as demand stimulus divided by budget cost.) We knew this from Milton Friedman’s permanent income hypothesis, or even from good old Keynesian multiplier theory.
But in February President Obama had to get those last three (Republican) votes to pass the stimulus bill in the Senate, and those three Senators insisted on raising the tax cut component of the stimulus package a bit and lowering the spending component. Their motivation presumably was to mollify their fellow Republicans, many of whom still claim that ONLY tax cuts provide stimulus, and that spending does not (and perhaps even has a negative effect) — which is even more extreme than the claim that a tax cut creates stimulus equal to spending. After the failures of the Bush tax cuts (and Reagan’s before him), I don’t know if any economists still cling to such “supply sider” notions — or indeed if these congressmen would be able to state their logic. Regardless, I think the Feldstein prediction has been borne out since then. Talk about irony! The Reagan tax cuts of 1981-83 and the Bush tax cuts of 2001-03 were both explicitly designed to boost saving — hence their focus on capital income and higher income brackets — and yet in both cases private saving fell in their aftermath. The tax cuts of January 2008 and February 2009 were both explicitly designed to boost consumption; yet private saving rose in their aftermath !
Fortunately, the majority of the Obama stimulus package took the form of increased spending, much of which has yet to come.
None of this is to deny that efficiency is an important consideration, and cost-benefit calculations should always enter into the choice of both what kind of tax cuts to adopt and what kind of spending increases to adopt. But if it is short-term demand stimulus we are after, and we are, then government spending gives more bang for the buck than tax cuts.
Originally published at Jeff Frankels Weblog and reproduced here with the author’s permission.