Key to Government Revenue is Economic Growth, Not High Tax Rates


Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A23) Kurt Hauser is a San Francisco investment economist who, 15 years ago, published fresh and eye-opening data about the federal tax system. His findings imply that there are draconian constraints on the ability of tax-rate increases to generate fresh revenues. I think his discovery deserves to be called Hauser’s Law, because it is as central to the economics of taxation as Boyle’s Law is to the physics of gases. Yet economists and policy makers are barely aware of it.
. . .
The data show that the tax yield has been independent of marginal tax rates over this period, but tax revenue is directly proportional to GDP. So if we want to increase tax revenue, we need to increase GDP.
. . .
What makes Hauser’s Law work? For supply-siders there is no mystery. As Mr. Hauser said: “Raising taxes encourages taxpayers to shift, hide and underreport income. . . . Higher taxes reduce the incentives to work, produce, invest and save, thereby dampening overall economic activity and job creation.”

For the full commentary, see:
DAVID RANSON. “You Can’t Soak the Rich.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 20, 2008): A23.
(Note: ellipses added.)

Andrew Carnegie on the Value of a Chemist in Making Steel

(p. 246) We found . . . a learned German, Dr. Fricke, and great secrets did the doctor open up to us. [Ore] from mines that had a high reputation was now found to contain ten, fifteen, and even twenty per cent less iron than it had been credited with. Mines that hitherto had a poor reputation we found to be now yielding superior ore. The good was bad and the bad was good, and everything was topsy-turvy. Nine-tenths of all the uncertainties of pig iron making were dispelled under the burning sun of chemical knowledge.
What fools we had been! But there was this consolation: we were not as great fools as our competitors . . . Years after we had taken chemistry to guide (p. 247) us [they] said they could not afford to employ a chemist. Had they known the truth then, they would have known they could not afford to be without one.

Andrew Carnegie as quoted in:
Rosenberg, Nathan, and L.E. Birdzell, Jr. How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World. New York: Basic Books, 1986.
(Note: brackets and ellipses were in the original.)

Economist of Science Babbage Invented a Computer


“Modern construction, Difference Engine No. 2, 2005”   Source of caption and photo:

Charles Babbage is best known as the inventor of an early computer, but he also made some early, stimulating contributions to the economics of science.

(p. C6) The oldest computer has landed in Silicon Valley, where they design the newest computers.
The Science Museum in London has built two replicas from Charles Babbage’s original design for the Difference Engine No. 2. Planned from 1847 to 1849, the five-ton, 8,000-part system for calculating the mathematical expressions known as polynomials was finally built in 2002 by a team of engineers that took 17 years to complete the entire project. The machine includes a remarkable printing component that almost certainly would have been the world’s first automated typesetter had Babbage built one from his original design during his lifetime.
The all-mechanical Difference Engine can handle numbers to 31 digits of accuracy. The printer produces an ink printout but also has the capability of making a mold for a printing plate. It automatically typesets results in columns and employs two separate font sizes.

For the full story, see:
JOHN MARKOFF. “BITS; 1800s-Style Computer Comes to U.S.” The New York Times (Mon., May 5, 2008): C6.

Factory Work Was Better than the “Abysmal” Alternatives

Levy and Murnane show that the computer has, on average, benefitted the situation of labor. After I presented a similar example at the Summer Institute in 2007, Dave Mitch asked me if this was in general true of advances in technology, or if it might be an exceptional case.
If computers represent one example of creative destruction, another example, in the process variety, would be the advent of factory production. In the following passage, Rosenberg and Birdzell suggest that factories also benefitted the situation of labor:

The low wages, long hours, and oppressive discipline of the early factories are shocking in that the willingness of the inarticulate poor to work on such terms bespeaks, more forcefully than the most eloquent words, the even more abysmal character of the alternatives they had endured in the past. But this was not the way the romantics of the nineteenth century read the message of the factories. (R & B 1986, p. 173)

In the above passage, Rosenberg and Birdzell suggest that the abysmal alternatives to factory work, that the poor faced, may partly have been the result of the enclosure movement having worsened the situation of the lowest agricultural workers, by denying them access to the fallow lands for animal grazing. But, in the passage below, they also imply that to some extent it may just have been due to the secularly persistent suffering that had long characterized much rural life.

Neither the entrepreneurs who built the factories nor anyone else supposed that they were engaged in a work of charity or an exercise of social conscience. But whatever the moral quality of their intentions, their actions advanced the interests of a down-trodden subproletariat—a subproletariat in part, perhaps, characteristic of pre-industrial societies and, in part, drawn from an agricultural work force hard pressed by the enclosure movement and a high rate of growth in agricultural productivity. (R & B 1986, p. 174)

They further point out that, although everyone was supposed to be compensated for losses from enclosure, the interests of the poorest were not well-represented in the decision-making bodies:

In theory, the acts compensated the cottagers for the loss of their common rights by giving them some of the enclosed land. But the cottagers were not effectively represented in Parliament, and there is much reason to believe that the compensation was in practice inadequate. (R & B 1986, p. 171)

DeLong and Summers note enclosure as one of the major institutional/policy actions that enabled a past episode of creative destruction to create a past ‘new economy.’ But the fact (if it is a fact) that a majority of farm labor was hurt by the enclosure, does not imply that this had to have been the case. It may in fact illustrate one of the major pints of DeLong and Summers, namely that it is extremely important to try to get institutions and policies right.
Sources mentioned above:
DeLong, J. Bradford, and Lawrence H. Summers. “The “New Economy”: Background, Questions and Speculations.” Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Economic Review (2001): 29-59.
Levy, Frank, and Richard J. Murnane. The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.
Rosenberg, Nathan, and L.E. Birdzell, Jr. How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World. New York: Basic Books, 1986.

Which Economic System Protects Us from ‘Natural’ Disasters?

CommunistPartyBossOnKnees.jpg “Jiang Guohua, the Communist Party boss of Mianzhu, knelt Sunday to ask parents of earthquake victims to abandon their protest.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A10) One man shouted, “Was this a natural disaster or a man-made disaster?” In unison, the parents shouted back: “Man-made!”

For the full story, see:
JAMES T. AREDDY. “Reporter’s Notebook; Tears and Anger Flow as Parents Cast Blame in Children’s Deaths.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 20, 2008): A10.

(p. A1) DUJIANGYAN, China — Bereaved parents whose children were crushed to death in their classrooms during the earthquake in Sichuan Province have turned mourning ceremonies into protests in recent days, forcing officials to address growing political repercussions over shoddy construction of public schools.
Parents of the estimated 10,000 children who lost their lives in the quake have grown so enraged about collapsed schools that they have overcome their usual caution about confronting Communist Party officials. Many say they are especially upset that some schools for poor students crumbled into rubble even though government offices and more elite schools not far away survived the May 12 quake largely intact.
On Tuesday, an informal gathering of parents at Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan to commemorate their children gave way to unbridled fury. One of the fathers in attendance, a quarry worker named Liu Lifu, grabbed the microphone and began calling for justice. His 15-year-old daughter, Liu Li, was killed along with her entire class during a biology lesson.
“We demand that the government severely punish the killers who caused the collapse of the school building,” he shouted. “Please, everyone sign the petition so we can find out the truth.”
The crowd grew more agitated. Some parents said local officials had known for years that the school was unsafe but refused to take action. Others recalled that two hours passed before rescue workers showed up; even then, they stopped working at 10 p.m. on the night of the earthquake and did not resume the search until 9 a.m. the next day.
Although there is no official casualty count, only 13 of the school’s 900 students came out alive, parents said. “The people responsible for this should be brought here and have a bullet put in their head,” said Luo Guanmin, a farmer who was cradling a photo of his 16-year-old daughter, Luo Dan.
Sharp confrontations between protesters and officials began over the weekend in several towns in northern Sichuan. Hundreds of parents whose children died at the Fuxin No. 2 Primary School in the city of Mianzhu staged an impromptu rally on Saturday. They surrounded an official who tried to assure them that their complaints were being taken seriously, screaming and yelling in her face until she fainted.
The next day, the Communist (p. A10) Party’s top official in Mianzhu came out to talk with the parents and to try to stop them from marching to Chengdu, the provincial capital, where they sought to prevail on higher-level authorities to investigate. The local party boss, Jiang Guohua, dropped to his knees and pleaded with them to abandon the protest, but the parents shouted in his face and continued their march.
Later, as the crowd surged into the hundreds, some parents clashed with the police, leaving several bleeding and trembling with emotion.
The protests threaten to undermine the government’s attempts to promote its response to the quake as effective and to highlight heroic rescue efforts by the People’s Liberation Army, which has dispatched 150,000 soldiers to the region. Censors have blocked detailed reporting of the schools controversy by the state-run media, but a photo of Mr. Jiang kneeling before protesters has become a sensation on some Web forums, bringing national attention to the incident.
. . .
. . . all at once the women doubled over in agony, a chorus of 100 mothers wailing over the loss of sons and daughters who, because of China’s population control policy, were their only children. The husbands wept in silence, paralyzed by the storm of emotion.

For the full story, see:
ANDREW JACOBS. “Parents’ Grief Turns to Rage at Chinese Officials.” The New York Times (Weds., May 28, 2008): A1 & A10.
(Note: ellipses added.)

“A memorial service for hundreds of students of Juyuan Middle School in Dujiangyan, where a mother held a picture of her son, turned into an angry protest.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

Capital Accumulation Did Not Require Cutbacks in Consumption

(p. 166) Of course, the capital that supplied the Industrial Revolution was not created out of thin air. But neither was it painfully accumulated by the frugal habits of Protestant burghers, expropriated from labor by massive reductions of wages, or squeezed out of reduced consumption. No reduction in the real income of workers or landowners nor in their rate of consumption, no national resolve to increase the rate of saving, was needed to fund the new machines and the new forms of factory organization. Rather, the increase in output that was generated by the factories was more than sufficient to pay their capital costs over a short period of time, for the increase was large and the capital costs were modest.

Rosenberg, Nathan, and L.E. Birdzell, Jr. How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World. New York: Basic Books, 1986.

Haley Barbour Proves the Economic Benefits of Tort Reform

BarbourHaleyToyota.jpg “Haley Barbour, left, with Toyota officials in February 2007 moments after announcing Toyota Motor Corp. will build a $1.3 billion assembly plant in northeast Mississippi.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ commentary quoted and cited below.

(p. A9) Jackson, Miss. Shortly after winning election in 2003 by running on a tort-reform platform, Mr. Barbour stitched together a coalition of doctors, business groups, taxpayers and even unions to roll back the trial lawyer lobby.
“It was not just a battle,” recalls Charlie Ross, the Senate sponsor of the reform bill, “it was a five-year war.” The law that eventually passed was every trial lawyers’ worst nightmare. It capped awards for noneconomic damages, and prevented the popular practice whereby a plaintiff attorney seeking to bring a class-action shops around for a court where he’ll be likely to get a favorable ruling or judgment.
Almost overnight, the flow of lawsuits began to dry up and businesses started to trickle in. Federal Express invested $1 billion in a new facility in the state. Toyota chose Mississippi over about a dozen other states for a new $1.2 billion, 2,000-worker auto plant. The auto maker has stipulated that the company would pull up stakes if the tort reforms were overturned by the legislature or activist judges.
That hasn’t happened. About 60,000 new jobs have arrived in four years – not a small number in a workforce of about 1.3 million – and a sharp improvement from the 30,000 jobs lost in the four years before Mr. Barbour took office. Since the law took effect, the number of medical malpractice lawsuits has fallen by nearly 90%, which in turn has cut malpractice insurance costs by 30% to 45%, depending on the county.
Another encouraging sign: Fewer Mississippians are heading to law school and more are looking at business school as the best way to get rich. Many in the younger generation are pursuing a career path that will make them wealth creators, not wealth redistributors.
. . .
Thanks to Mr. Barbour, the state’s unemployment rate is down to about 6% from nearly 9%. Last year, Mississippi’s per capita income growth was 6.7%, third highest of the 50 states and well above the national average of 5.2%. Mississippi tort reform is making the poor richer, and the rich lawyers less fabulously rich. Now that’s a good way to close the income gap.

For the full commentary, see:
STEPHEN MOORE. “CROSS COUNTRY; Mississippi’s Tort Reform Triumph.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 10, 2008): A9.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Successful Entrepreneurs are Not Always Remembered

(p. 161) They made their profits not from their skill in manufacture, but from their skill in the design of machines that could spin and weave better and more cheaply than those of their predecessors and contemporary rivals. They were highly successful, though their names are all but forgotten.

Rosenberg, Nathan, and L.E. Birdzell, Jr. How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World. New York: Basic Books, 1986.