Lower taxes don’t necessarily help those on higher incomes

Robert Frank, author of the Economic Naturalist and The Darwin Economy, wrote a piece in the New York Times on the influence money has on determining the outcome of political decisions. Wealthy donors to political causes will want to make sure that policies implemented by the authorities will mean lower taxes for them and less regulation for their businesses. As their income goes up this will only increase the monetary contribution they can give to demand greater favours.

This invariably leads to greater inequality and eventually may become so acute that even those politicians who have large funding from the corporate sector won’t succeed against opponents who seek major reforms. However, lower tax rates can have both positive and negative impacts on wealthy donors:

Positive – lower taxes mean greater disposable income and more consumption in the private sector.
Negative – budget deficits and the reduced quality and quantity of public services e.g. roads, schools, hospitals etc.

Those on higher incomes have been insulated from the declining quality of public sector goods and services by being able to pay for the equivalent in the private sector – schools, hospitals etc. But with a declining middle class it might be harder to recruit productive workers in addition to a reduction in demand for goods and services. Furthermore there are consequences of poor public goods/services that cut across the inequality of income and affect everyone:

* poor roads, bridges and general infrastructure
* electricity shortages/ blackouts (remember ENRON in California)
* effects of reduced investment in nuclear power that could be detrimental to safety

Scenario – 2 Societies with differing degrees of government and private spending

Frank asks which country would be happier? As improvements to cars are quite costly above a certain value and can be viewed as only minor, most people think that the BMW drivers are better off, not to mention safer. Furthermore the BMW drivers are less likely to feel deprived as societies don’t often mingle.

Frank concludes by saying:

So if regulation promotes a safer, cleaner environment whose benefits exceed those broadly shared costs, everyone – even the business owner – is ahead in the long run.

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