Dr. Thomas Sowell wrote this column in early 2014 in response to Socialist Bill de Blasio’s rhetoric at the time. It is a short read, but it is timely given the tax reform debate taking place right now in Washington.
The ‘Trickle-Down’ Lie
New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, in his inaugural speech, denounced people “on the far right” who “continue to preach the virtue of trickle-down economics.” According to Mayor de Blasio, “They believe that the way to move forward is to give more to the most fortunate, and that somehow the benefits will work their way down to everyone else.”
If there is ever a contest for the biggest lie in politics, this one should be a top contender.
While there have been all too many lies told in politics, most have some little tiny fraction of truth in them, to make them seem plausible. But the “trickle-down” lie is 100 percent lie.
It should win the contest both because of its purity — no contaminating speck of truth — and because of how many people have repeated it over the years, without any evidence being asked for or given.
Years ago, this column challenged anybody to quote any economist outside of an insane asylum who had ever advocated this “trickle-down” theory. Some readers said that somebody said that somebody else had advocated a “trickle-down” policy. But they could never name that somebody else and quote them.
Mayor de Blasio is by no means the first politician to denounce this non-existent theory. Back in 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama attacked what he called “an economic philosophy” which “says we should give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else.”
Let’s do something completely unexpected: Let’s stop and think. Why would anyone advocate that we “give” something to A in hopes that it would trickle down to B? Why in the world would any sane person not give it to B and cut out the middleman? But all this is moot, because there was no trickle-down theory about giving something to anybody in the first place.
The “trickle-down” theory cannot be found in even the most voluminous scholarly studies of economic theories — including J.A. Schumpeter’s monumental “History of Economic Analysis,” more than a thousand pages long and printed in very small type.
It is not just in politics that the non-existent “trickle-down” theory is found. It has been attacked in the New York Times, in the Washington Post and by professors at prestigious American universities — and even as far away as India. Yet none of those who denounce a “trickle-down” theory can quote anybody who actually advocated it.
The book “Winner-Take-All Politics” refers to “the ‘trickle-down’ scenario that advocates of helping the have-it-alls with tax cuts and other goodies constantly trot out.” But no one who actually trotted out any such scenario was cited, much less quoted.
One of the things that provoke the left into bringing out the “trickle-down” bogeyman is any suggestion that there are limits to how high they can push tax rates on people with high incomes, without causing repercussions that hurt the economy as a whole.
But, contrary to Mayor de Blasio, this is not a view confined to people on the “far right.” Such liberal icons as Presidents John F. Kennedy and Woodrow Wilson likewise argued that tax rates can be so high that they have an adverse effect on the economy.
In his 1919 address to Congress, Woodrow Wilson warned that, at some point, “high rates of income and profits taxes discourage energy, remove the incentive to new enterprise, encourage extravagant expenditures, and produce industrial stagnation with consequent unemployment and other attendant evils.”
Stephen Moore uses his Investor’s Business Daily column to magnify the “Left’s War on Business”:
Hillary Clinton is getting deservedly attacked for her imbecilic statement at a Democratic political gathering in Massachusetts on Friday about business and jobs.
“Don’t let anybody tell you that, ah, you know, it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs,” she preached, to loud applause. “You know that old theory, trickle-down economics. That has been tried, that has failed. It has failed rather spectacularly.”
It may not be too surprising that Hillary can’t connect the dots that it takes an employer to create an employee to create wages and salaries.
That’s how some 150 million Americans get paid every week. Ms. Clinton has made her millions in the cattle futures market, as a government employee and giving speeches for fees of $250,000 a pop. Nice work if you can get it. The rest of us mere mortals need a paycheck.
Thomas Sowell for Capitalism Magazine:
As with all taxes, a distinction must be made between tax rates and tax revenues. Tax revenues went up while tax rates went down in the 1980s. Similarly in the 1960s and the 1920s. That is because incomes rose more than tax rates fell. But still it will be claimed that we cannot “afford” to cut tax rates because it would create deficits. Spending creates deficits — and it is big spenders who fight hardest against cutting tax rates.
It is not faith but empirical evidence that is overwhelming on the actual track record of tax cuts and free markets. By the 1980s, this mounting evidence convinced even left-wing governments in various parts of the world to cut back government operations and sell government-owned enterprises to private industry. Faith had nothing to do with it.