I recently asserted that Kevin Hassett deserved a failing grade for his “analysis” projecting that the Trump administration proposal to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent would raise the wages of an average American family between $4,000 to $9,000. I chose harsh language because Hassett had, for what seemed like political reasons, impugned the integrity of people like Len Burman and Gene Steuerle who have devoted their lives to honest rigorous evaluation of tax measures by calling their work “scientifically indefensible” and “fiction.” Since there have been a variety of comments on the economics of corporate tax reduction, some further discussion seems warranted.
The analysis from Hassett, chief of the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), relies heavily on correlations between corporate tax rates and wages in other countries to argue that a cut in the corporate tax rate would boost returns to labor very substantially. Perhaps unintentionally, the CEA ignores our own historical experience in their analysis. As Frank Lysy noted, the corporate tax cuts of the late 1980s did not result in increased real wages. Actually, real wages fell. The same is true in the United Kingdom, as highlighted by Kimberly Clausing and Edward Kleinbard. These examples feel far more relevant to the corporate tax issue analysis than comparisons to small economies and tax havens like Ireland and Switzerland upon which the CEA relies.
There has been a lot of back and forth, but notably no one has defended the $4,000 claim as a “very conservatively estimated lower bound,” let alone endorsed the plausibility of the $9,000 claim. In fact, the Wall Street Journal op-ed page published two very optimistic versions of what the wage increase could be, which were below CEA’s lower bound.
Casey Mulligan and Greg Mankiw also do not defend CEA’s numbers, but do make use of simple academic abstract models that do not capture the complexities of a policy situation to argue that wage increases could be larger than the tax cut. The inadequacy of their analyses illustrate why well-resourced, team-based institutions with a strong culture of attention to detail like the Congressional Budget Office, the GAO, the Joint Tax Committee Staff or the Tax Policy Center are so important.
Mankiw’s blog is a fine bit of economic pedagogy. It asks students to gauge the impact of a corporate rate reduction on wages in a so called “Ramsey” model or equivalently in a small fully open economy, with perfect capital mobility. Even with these assumptions, he does not get answers in the range of the CEA’s estimates.
As a device for motivating students to learn how to manipulate oversimplified academic models, Mankiw’s blog is terrific as one would expect from an outstanding economist and one of the leading textbook authors of his generation. As a guide to the effects of the Trump administration’s tax cut, I do not think it is very helpful for three important reasons... By far the highest quality assessment of corporate tax issues has been provided by Jane Gravelle, writing under the auspices of the Congressional Research Service. It looks at all the literature. It recognizes that the issues are complex and cannot be captured by a single model or regression equation. It does not start with a point of view. Unfortunately it provides little support for claims that corporate rate cuts will raise revenue, help the middle class or spur rapid wage growth... During my years in government, I served with 7 CEA chairs — Martin Feldstein, Laura Tyson, Joe Stiglitz, Janet L. Yellen, Martin Baily, Christy Romer and Austan Goolsbee. I observed all of them fighting with political figures in their Administrations as they insisted that CEA analysis had to be of a kind that would be respected and validated by outside economists. They refused to cheerlead for Administration policies at the expense of their professional credibility. I cannot imagine any of them releasing an estimate as far from the professional mainstream as $4000 to $9000 wage increase from a corporate rate cut claim. Chairman Hassett should for the sake of his own credibility, that of the Administration he serves and the institution he leads, back off.
Better, Mick Mulvaney said, for opponents of legislation to supply their studies and advocates to supply their own. “And if it works, they would get re-elected and if it doesn’t, they don’t.”
Academic economists have received a demotion. The Trump administration has been filling out its cabinet and, unlike in the Obama administration, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers will not be part of it.
.. Instead, they arise from a belief that this move will rob the policy-making process of a particular kind of expertise and, worse, contribute to insularity and bias.
.. But don’t confuse business acumen with economic analytics. You surely wouldn’t conflate the two in one direction: Would you ask an academic economist without business experience to run a company?
.. What would the reduced job opportunities do to people who have made the military their profession? What would happen to the economies of the towns that surround Army bases? What would the fiscal consequences be, such as the cost of early retirement or severance packages that might need to be paid as part of a downsizing?
.. Critics of Mr. Feldstein complained. Lawrence A. Kudlow, who had been chief economist of Office of Management and Budget earlier in the Reagan administration, said of Mr. Feldstein: “There’s always been the suspicion that he’s playing to Harvard, the Charles River crowd, that he’s more interested in protecting his academic integrity than the president’s programs.”
Yes, academics fret about what their peers think, just as other people do. In this case, it’s a good thing. It is important to have someone in the cabinet who is more interested in protecting academic integrity than in protecting business interests or the president’s image.
During that sit-down, on Nov. 29, Mr. Cohn briefed Mr. Trump on what he regarded as the chief hurdle to expanding the economy, according to people who were briefed on the discussion: a stronger dollar, which would undermine efforts to create jobs.
.. They have also generated outrage in some quarters. “The way I see this, there was a devastating financial crisis just over eight years ago,” Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, said. “Goldman Sachs was at the heart of that crisis. The idea that the president is now going to turn over the country’s economic policy to a senior Goldman executive turns my stomach.”
.. Along with Mr. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, Mr. Cohn recently helped persuade the president not to pursue an executive order that would have rolled back rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
.. Still, Mr. Cohn’s 26-year career at Goldman, where he performed an array of jobs, including trading commodities, running mortgages and eventually overseeing day-to-day operations, ended with a remarkable windfall: cash and stock valued at $285 million.