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Does Reducing Taxes Increase Revenues?

This morning in a debate on CNBC about tax policy, CNBC rolled out the old Laffer-curve argument that reducing taxes increases revenues. They showed this graph, which appears about 6:18 into the video. In it, you can see that when capital gains taxes were reduced, there was a spike in tax revenues. What they didn’t mention is that the spike was quickly followed by a drop off to normal levels. What that shows is that legislating is a relatively slow process. When lower capital gains rates are being discussed, wealthy people hold off on realizing profits until the new lower rates are in effect. Then they do some profit taking on which they can pay the lower rates. A lot of the assets sold are probably ones that have been held a long time and perhaps would not otherwise have been sold.

Another factor as tax rates become even lower is that it encourages speculation. If there’s little or no capital gains tax, it encourages people to “speculate” for short term gains, not “invest.” Hence, there is more churning and more taxes on more individual transactions.

Reagan’s belief in the Laffer-curve showed that his Alzheimer’s had set in while he was still President. And for those crazies who still believe in it, it just shows that they are crazy. There probably is some very high level where the Laffer hypothesis applies, close to a 100% tax rate, but that it largely irrelevant in today’s world.

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