La curva de Laffer se vuelve provinciana

Félix López –  17 de abril, 2015

No tenía previsto comentar un libro que leí poco antes de las pasadas navidades, pero una entrada que he visto hoy en el blog de Barry Ritholtz me ha animado a ello. Arthur Laffer, de memoria imperecedera con su curva de Laffer, aquel invento de la época de Reagan -y que sirvió de base teórica para su bajada de impuestos- sigue vendiendo su producto. Por lo visto, en aquel entonces, principios de los ochenta del siglo pasado, bajar los impuestos sobre la renta en EEUU hacía aumentar la recaudación fiscal. David Stockman en The Triumph of Politics ya nos explicó con detalle toda aquella juerga fiscal posterior. Parece que no funcionaba.

LafferPero en el campo estatal (de cada estado individual de EEUU) puede que tenga más prometedor futuro. En An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of States (si cambian la palabra final por Nations el título les resultará familiar) escrito con otros tres autores se propone exactamente esto. Nos trata de convencer que disminuyendo los impuestos estatales la recaudación fiscal aumentará porque habrá un boom económico que hará que al final se termine recaudando más. Mira que, bien visto, esto tiene más posibilidades de éxito que si se aplica a nivel nacional. La idea, por lo que detecto de sus explicaciones, consiste en robar todos los contribuyentes ricos al estado vecino. Esto -lo que algunos llaman dumping fiscal- es conocido aquí en España… y en Europa en general tenemos buenos ejemplos en ciertos impuestos con Irlanda, Luxemburgo, Holanda…

Bueno, pues parece que en EEUU ni eso. vía Supply-Side Doom in Kansas – Bloomberg View.


Let’s focus on Kansas, because of all the states its tax data reflects conscious policy choices as opposed to larger economic forces, such as falling oil prices.

Under the leadership of Republican Governor Sam Brownback, the state radically cut income taxes on corporations and individuals. Going on the assumption that this would generate a burst of economic growth and higher tax revenue, no alternative sources of revenue were put into place. Similarly, the state failed to lower spending.

Alas, reality trumps theory. As we have seen almost every time this thesis has been put into practice, it fails. The tax cuts don’t magically kick the economy into higher gear and the government ends up short of money. Remember former President George W. Bush and his tax cuts? Same deal.

Much of the intellectual heft for this theory can be traced to economist Arthur Laffer, a former member of President Ronald Reagan’s Economic Policy Advisory Board who is sometimes referred to as the father of supply-side economics. To cite just one example: Laffer, along with Stephen Moore, expounded on this thesis in a September 2012 report, “Taxes Really Do Matter: Look at the States.”

Now it is true that excessively high tax rates can cause economic harm. For those of you old enough to remember, think about when the Rolling Stones decamped from the U.K. to France in response to Britain’s 98 percent wealth tax; more recently the band U2 shielded some of its assets by shifting them from Ireland to the Netherlands.

The argument goes that cutting tax rates would have led these big earners to stay, and that capturing a reduced amount of revenue is better than losing the potential revenue completely.

Nor is anything wrong with the underlying premise of supply-side economics per se: We can increase economic growth by lowering barriers for producers to supply goods and services and make capital investments. A greater supply of goods and services at lower prices benefits all consumers, helping to expand business activity, hiring and spending. All of that naturally leads to higher tax revenue for the government.

And yet some economic radicals have taken the supply-side theory to absurd places. Perhaps the most radical is Grover Norquist, the promoter of the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge.” Norquist opposes any and all increases in taxes, and has persuaded many politicians and almost all Republicans to sign the pledge.

While serving as Kansas’s U.S senator, Brownback signed the pledge, and was a central player behind putting the theory into practice in the state. Unfortunately for Kansas, the real world has a tendency of introducing frictions that theory often ignores. Kansas now is confronting annual budget deficits, severe cuts in education and road maintenance, and credit-rating downgrades.

Ideally, states should be looking for the optimal point where tax rates produce the greatest revenue with the lowest burden. The range includes value choices between somewhat more revenue versus somewhat lower taxes.

Now, after Brownback’s supply-side experiment, Kansas has become a sort of mirror image of the high-tax nation that the wealthy like Mick Jagger and U2 tend to flee. Those in the middle class in Kansas might like to leave for a state with services that aren’t starved for money. But like many people of modest means, they aren’t especially mobile, and often have deep roots in a community: They own homes, have family and friends nearby and have children in the local school system. Picking up and moving a small business or residence to the next state is harder than it sounds.

The bottom line: The results from the economic laboratory known as Kansas are in. Supply side theory — and Kansans — lost. The only question is whether those like Brownback have learned anything.

Claro que, el libro -ahora que lo pienso- es muy recomendable como arma fundamental en el arsenal de los que defiendan estas pintorescas ideas. Así que ahí queda.  En nuestra opinión, bajar los impuestos si son muy altos puede ser buena idea por un montón de motivos, pero no creemos que el que se recaude más sea una de ellas.

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