Post tax cuts ergo propter tax cuts

It has become tiresome again to point out the numbskullery of George Will’s arguments. As he often does, today he misrepresents the positions of Bush’s tax cut objectors and asserts that the tax cuts in precisely the way Bush (and Reagan, of course) envision them have made the economy grow.

The first:

>Last Sunday, eight Democratic presidential candidates debated for two hours, saying about the economy . . . next to nothing. You must slog to Page 43 in the 51-page transcript before Barack Obama laments that “the burdens and benefits of this new global economy are not being spread evenly across the board” and promises to “institute some fairness in the system.”

>Well. When in the long human story have economic burdens and benefits been “spread evenly”? Does Obama think they should be, even though talents never are? What relationship of “fairness” does he envision between the value received by individuals and the value added by them? Does he disagree — if so, on what evidence? — with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that “the influence of globalization on inequality has been moderate and almost surely less important than the effects of skill-biased technological change”?

Someone with madder internet skillz than me ought to do a Nexis search for how many times Will writes “Well period” after quoting someone ought of context. I suppose Obama has only those sound bites to offer–no explanation behind them or anything. Just for the record, the complaint about the tax cuts consisted in their uneven distribution. Critics argued that they would have been more effective had people who could spend the money gotten more, and people who don’t spend or don’t need gotten less. That’s the argument–I’m not having it now, so don’t comment on it–so Will ought to deal with that claim. Instead he makes it sound like the Democrats were against any tax cuts or endorsed only the most Robin Hood of tax schemes. Aside from that, he makes it sound like the avoided the topic of the economy at the debate. Well. At the debate, they’re not the ones asking the questions. Besides, the one who did most of the talking was Wolf Blitzer.

The second:

>In the 102 quarters since Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts went into effect more than 25 years ago, there have been 96 quarters of growth. Since the Bush tax cuts and the current expansion began, the economy’s growth has averaged 3 percent per quarter, and more than 8 million jobs have been created. The deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product is below the post-World War II average.

Post tax cuts ergo propter tax cuts.

66 thoughts on “Post tax cuts ergo propter tax cuts”

  1. For the last time, Steven:

    If Will has made a crappy argument, he hasn’t established his conclusion. The only thing we’re interested in here are arguments. As I have said above many times, good arguments could probably be advanced in other fora for those views. Not here. If you have a comment about the analysis of this particular argument, then make it. But you don’t have a comment on it, you have a comment rather on the general idea of tax cutting. You can talk about that as much as you want elsewhere. That’s not the point of this post and it’s not the point of this blog to have those sorts of discussions. Keep in mind that just because Will hasn’t dealt fairly with someone’s view doesn’t mean the libertarian tax policies are wrong. It just means they’re not supported by Will’s crappy argument. Will ought to know how to make better arguments, and those who agree with him ought to recognize when he doesn’t.

  2. “Arguments containing logical fallacies are easy to refute. Why deal with a strawmanned version, when you can deconstruct a much stronger argument? ”

    to the first point, i would say read rorty’s book “philosophy in the mirror of nature” and see how easily you can identify and defeat those claims. it’s noy always as easy as it is on the opinion page. second, jcasey dealt with will’s strawman because the purpose of this blog is point out faulty reasoning in political media, not defeat or uphold any certain political agenda. jcasey wasn’t trying to defeat the position will is holding; he was trying to point out that his logic was faulty. you’ll notice the subtitle says “logical analysis,” not “logical refutation.” what you’re trying to do and what jcasey are trying to do are simply two different things, neither one more right than the other, just simply different, that’s all.

  3. Well you’ve certainly cleared things up, then. I shall keep my comments directly related to the analysis of the article in the future. I just thought that members of this forum might be interested in a more general discussion.

    Perhaps you can post an article on Obama’s conflicting statements on the economy. Are the posts here limited to print media? I could go find a transcript of a speech he made. Then, would this debate be allowed?

    I suppose I’ll restate my original reaction to your post. I agree with your analysis of this post. Will has hardly made a convincing argument here.

  4. Thanks for the recommendation, pm. I had never heard of this text before. Having logged onto amazon and read some enlightening reviews, I’m thinking about ordering it. What sort of philosophical experience is needed to comprehend it?

  5. The pro-growth/anti-growth argument seems like a nice textbook false dichotomy– nevermind that there isn’t probably a single instantiation of either class.

    Perhaps what you mean are “growth-absolutists” as opposed to “growth-moderates.” The former would be a class who believed that growth (by some measure (GDP?)) is always a good thing (under any circumstances), and the rest would believe that growth is one good among many and is sometimes worth maximizing and sometimes not. The former position seems eminently silly.

    Assuming the position of a “growth-absolutist” perhaps your argument works.

  6. just the patience for some good old Quinean analytic philosophy filtered through the lens of Peirce and Dewey’s pragmatism and the expectation of reading some very extensive footnotes. there’s nearly a second text in footnotes alone. get it now, though. rorty passed away today, which someone will likely use as a reason to drive up the price.

  7. I really don’t see the false dichotomy. But, I’ve been precluded from commenting further on the topic, so I cannot attempt to offer a refutation. All I will say is that that given those arbitrary catagories, I would be an absolutist, provided the growth did not come at the loss of political freedom.

  8. The false dichotomy occurs because people can have a wide variety of positions on the value of growth, though you treat it as though there are only two positions (pro/anti). As you say, you yourself may even think some things (political freedom) are more important than growth. Others think justice, for example, is more important sometimes than growth. There are lots and lots of positions on the relative value of growth compared to other political and social goods. Your argument seems to collapse all those positions (i.e. anyone who advocates a tax increase (like during WWII?)) into the other (bad) side of a dichotomy. To claim that we should increase taxes for purpose x (defense, freedom, justice) is not to be \”anti-growth\”–unless everyone is \”anti-growth\” (yourself, it seems, included.)

  9. You’ve completely misunderstood my post. The subject of how important growth should be on our country’s list of priorities is an important question, and one that I have not tried to address here. It’s just that when Obama declares to the people of this country that he supports pro-growth policies, then wants to raise domestic spending, there is an inherent contradiction. Either you acknowledge that you will need to sacrifice some economic growth (greater equity, for example) to pay for your new program, or you don’t implement the program. You’re right to say that no one is entirely pro-growth in an absolute sense, but when you want to increase government spending in a time when we don’t have a balanced budged, you will either have to borrow money or raise taxes. Either one will slow growth. Whether or not we should raise domestic spending is an important debate, but it can never be an hones one, when those who advocate on it’s behalf do not acknowledge the downsides. That’s all I’m saying. Right now, Obama just isn’t acknowledging the disatvantages associated with raising domestic spending.

  10. >It’s just that when Obama declares to the people of this country that he supports pro-growth policies, then wants to raise domestic spending, there is an inherent contradiction.

    No, I don\’t think I misunderstand your post, as this quotation makes plain. You say that in choosing other priorities Obama is not \”pro-growth.\” This is the locus of the false dichotomy. He may not be (in my language) a \”growth absolutist\” but that\’s a silly position. He can perfectly consistently acknowledge that he is in favor of growth and think that sometimes one should not maximize growth when it is in conflict with other political and social goods (as your point about political freedom should make plain to you). All you are able to conclude about Obama is either:

    a) not a growth absolutist (nothing bad about not having a silly position).

    b) differing with you on when and for what purposes we should let growth take back seat to some other purpose. (OK, this is an important political question, but not one that is addressed in the simplistic language of anti/pro-growth, which entirely misses the substantive issue).

  11. There are costs to increasing spending during a time of a budget shortfall. He just won’t acknowledge them. I’m not talking about pro-growth candidates, but rather pro-growth policies. Obama, like most sane people, supports economic growth. Just because he doesn’t consider maintaining high GDP growth foremost on his list of priorities, that doesn’t mean he does not consider growth to be beneficial. Now if I were tyring to posit Obama as some person who does not support growth, that would be an indefensible position.

    I’m just talking about policy here. If he decides to inistute an expensive domestic agenda, he will have to pay for it. Now, it may be that the benefits from such program outweigh the strain on the GDP, but the decision to raise spending while maintaining growth in our state of budget defecit is infeasible.

    Once again, it is not my position that 1. Obama is anti-growth, nor that 2. Growth should outrank all other political concerns. That would be a judgement claim, that’s hard to defend.

    As I’ve said, the slower growth might be justified given the benefits produced by this program. I’m not entertaining that argument right now. The simple fact remains, that to pay for this agenda, (either though borrowing through bond sales, or raising taxes) will cut at the economic growth. To deny that one simple notion, doesn’t make sense.

    I believe that most people are pro-growth. But, not all actions are pro-growth. Increasing spending in our current economic situation will cut at growth. That’s not really a controversial claim.

    I hope now that you can better understand my position.

  12. That’s a plausible refinement of what you have said, which. at least, avoids the logical problem, I think. What you say is that Obama’s policy will lessen growth, because taxes lessen growth (presumably an appeal to authority, or a non-circular defense of the premise is possible (e.g., decrease of capital results in decrease of investment, etc.)). That may turn out to be true.

    I’ll just note that there is controversy, where you claim that there is none. There are
    Keynesians and others who believe that government spending can be a “pro-growth” policy.

    But, this is a substantive claim that, as Casey points out, is beyond the scope of our analytical purview.

    And as an aside, it occurred to me that although I can’t think of a reason to be a “growth absolutist,” there is argument on the opposite side (anti-growth absolutist) from steady-state economists and some environmentalists.

  13. “What you say is that Obama’s policy will lessen growth, because taxes lessen growth (presumably an appeal to authority, or a non-circular defense of the premise is possible (e.g., decrease of capital results in decrease of investment, etc.))”

    Yes, that’s the gist of my claim. There is really only one thing missing, that I believe, lessens the likelihood of controversy. If we consider the state of the economy. (large deficit, rising international demand for loanable funds), few people are recommending increased government spending to grow the economy. Of course, this is really a discussion for another time.

    I appreciate the stimulating exchange.

  14. “Increasing taxes will always slow growth.”

    How could such a statement possibly be made without going into details such as:

    What is taxed? Personal income? Corporate income? Sales tax?
    What area of the economy grows? Personal income? Corporate profits?

    Certainly we cannot eliminate all taxes? Or would that mean maximum growth?

    Could just be me though.

  15. Ga,

    I think that’s right. “Taxes” is too broad a term to be of any use in this particular circumstance. And your points about distribution of tax cuts makes a point I tried to make in the initial post. Repealing Bush’s tax cuts might mean deeper tax cuts, depending on how they are distributed. It might not, but that merely demonstrates that there is more than one way to cut taxes.

    And on the growth point–and George Will’s article–this is worth reading:

  16. “Increasing taxes will always slow growth”

    The answer is pretty simple: Increasing any one of these taxes (or the inflation tax, alternative minimum tax), will slow growth.

    “Certainly we cannot eliminate all taxes? Or would that mean maximum growth?

    When we eliminate all forms of taxes, we would essentially leave the appropriation of all goods/services to the market. And yes, this would produce maximum growth. ”

    As of right now, I would reduce eliminate the inflation tax, reduce the corporate gains tax, and keep the Bush cuts permanent. They were well conceived, and have worked magnificently.

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