Vero on Tyler on the capital gains tax


George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen disagrees with my assessment of the impact of the capital gains tax cut in 1997 on economic growth. He writes:

Why think the Capital gains tax cut gets the credit? With loss offsets in the tax code, isn’t the real rate on capital gains pretty low in any case?  And the last decade had a relatively low (nominal, published) capital gains rate but not fantastic growth results. Also, keep in mind that the biggest effects of a cut (or hike) in capital gains rates are on old capital, not new capital. New capital (and other factors) drives growth.  But the incidence of capital gains taxes on new capital is largely, through incidence, bounced onto consumers and labor.

I think he may be right. Darn. And then there is this:

Arguments that the maximum CGT tax rate affects economic growth are even more tenuous: Capital gains rates display no contemporaneous correlation with real GDP growth during the last 50 years. Although the effect of capital gains on economic growth may occur with a lag, Burman (1999) tests lags of up to five years and finds no statistically significant effect. Moreover, any effect is likely small as capital gains realizations have averaged about 3 percent of GDP since 1960 and have never been more than 7.5 percent.

What do you guys think? I’d be interested in any argument you may have against or in favor of this paragraph.

Vero’s post is here and do read the comments.  I could have put my first point more precisely.  I’d like to see an estimate of the real rather than nominal published rate of tax on capital gains.  This would take into account loss offsets, carry-over, borrowing against the gains and deducting the interest payments, the option of holding until death, and a number of other factors.  I mentioned only loss offsets, which do have a cap and thus one must distinguish between the average and the marginal capital gains rate.  A lot of the measured and paid “capital gains tax” is actually slid in from what would otherwise be counted as ordinary income.

In any case, I regard this as one of the great myths of some schools of economics, namely the power of the capital gains tax rate.  One can be agnostic on the matter (for one thing the timing of the tax cuts is endogenous), but the data do not show the rate to have a big influence on subsequent economic growth.


Comments for this post are closed