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Our goal in this chapter was to understand the effects of tax changes on aggregate consumption and aggregate output. A tax cut puts more income in the hands of households, and thus consumption increases. The increase in consumption in turn leads to an expansion in the overall level of economic activity. The framework does a good job of describing and explaining actual economic outcomes during the Kennedy tax cut. We can thus have some faith that our basic framework is reasonably sound. Having said that, it is a very simple model that does have some deficiencies, most notably its neglect of the supply side of the economy.
Income tax cuts also decrease overall national saving. Income tax cuts increase household disposable income and lead to increased saving by households (as well as increased consumption). At the same time, however, income tax cuts mean that the government is saving less (or borrowing more). The net effect is to decrease national saving. The theory of economic growth tells us that reduced saving has the effect of decreasing future standards of living.
We then examined the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s. These tax cuts were aimed at stimulating employment and output by encouraging people to work more. The belief that tax cuts lead to an increase in the quantity of labor supplied is consistent with basic microeconomic principles, but there is disagreement about the likely size of the effect.
Although we cast our discussion of the effects of taxes on spending using the tax cuts of the Kennedy and Reagan administrations, the lesson is more general. It is common for the United States and other countries to use variations in income tax rates as a tool of intervention. We highlighted several effects of such interventions. Income tax changes alter the level of household disposable income and thus influence consumption expenditures; they affect saving and capital accumulation; and they affect labor supply. This policy tool therefore gives the government considerable influence on the aggregate economy.
Indeed, when the crisis of 2008 hit the world’s economies, many countries responded by implementing expansionary fiscal policies, including cuts in taxes. Australia, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Austria, and Brazil are just a few of the countries who cut taxes in response to the crisis.
We used the Kennedy tax cut to illustrate demand-side effects and the Reagan tax cut to illustrate supply-side effects because those were the channels emphasized by the economic advisors at the time. Just about every change in the income tax code, however, has effects on consumption, saving, and labor supply. Every change in the code has short-run effects and long-run effects, and, as we have seen, these effects can be contradictory. Thus whenever you hear or read about proposed changes in taxes, you should try to remember that all these different stories will be in operation. The politicians and pundits who are supporting or opposing the change will typically talk about only one of them, depending on the spin they wish to convey. The analysis of this chapter should help you always see the bigger picture.
Finally, remember that tax changes will typically have major effects on the distribution of income. There are winners and losers from every change in the tax code. This, above all, is why changes in the tax code are an endless source of political debate.
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