The 2003 Tax Cut On Capital Gains Entirely Paid For Itself
I'm not just saying it -- CBO is.


Donald L. Luskin

On Thursday the Congressional Budget Office released its annual Budget and Economic Outlook, and buried in one of its nearly impenetrable tables of numbers is a remarkable story that has gone entirely unreported by the mainstream media: The 2003 tax cut on capital gains has entirely paid for itself. More than paid for itself. Way more.

To appreciate this story, we have to go back in time to January 2003, before the tax cut was enacted. Table 3-5 on page 60 in CBO’s Budget and Economic Outlook published in 2003 estimated that capital-gains tax liabilities would be $60 billion in 2004 and $65 billion in 2005, for a two-year total of $125 billion.

Now let’s move forward a year, to January 2004, after the capital-gains tax cut had been enacted. Table 4-4 on page 82 in CBO’s Budget and Economic Outlook of that year shows that the estimates for capital-gains tax liabilities had been lowered to $46 billion in 2004 and $52 billion in 2005, for a two-year total of $98 billion. Compare the original $125 billion total to the new $98 billion total, and we can infer that CBO was forecasting that the tax cut would cost the government $27 billion in revenues.

Those are the estimates. Now let’s see how things really turned out. Take a look at Table 4-4 on page 92 of the Budget and Economic Outlook released this week. You’ll see that actual liabilities from capital-gains taxes were $71 billion in 2004, and $80 billion in 2005, for a two-year total of $151 billion. So let’s do the math one more time: Subtract the originally estimated two-year liability of $125 billion from the actual liability of $151 billion, and you get a $26 billion upside surprise for the government. Yes, instead of costing the government $27 billion in revenues, the tax cuts actually earned the government $26 billion extra.

CBO’s estimate of the “cost” of the tax cut was virtually 180 degrees wrong. The Laffer curve lives!

This straight-A report card on supply-side tax-cutting was noted Thursday by Daniel Clifton of the American Shareholders Association — the man who predicted that exactly this would happen when the tax cuts were first enacted. Clifton wrote on his blog,

a capital gains tax cut spurs the growth of new businesses, increases the wage of workers, enhances consumer purchasing power, and grows the economy at large, resulting in more overall gains to be taxed. When capital is taxed at a lower rate, any revenue losses are offset because there is more overall capital being produced, and thus more total revenue being generated.

Using the same kind of analysis, we can see that attempts to raise tax revenues by raising tax rates simply doesn’t work. Consider the massive increase in personal income-tax rates imposed by President Clinton and a Democratic Congress in 1993. Compare actual total tax revenues for the four years from 1993 to 1996 to what had been estimated by CBO in 1992 before the tax hikes took effect. Despite increasing the top tax rate on incomes by 16 percent to 28 percent, actual revenues only beat the 1992 estimate by less than 1 percent.

So what led to the gusher of tax revenues in the late 1990s that helped to put the federal budget into surplus? Simple: It was the capital-gains tax cut engineered by a Republican Congress in 1997. Compare actual total tax revenues for the three years from 1997 to 1999 to what had been previously estimated by CBO in January 1997. Despite cutting the capital-gains tax rate by 28 percent, actual total revenues beat the 1997 estimate by more than 11 percent.

These are the numbers. They don’t lie. It’s the Left that lies — just like former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin did this week in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal when he said

The proponents of supply-side theory who assert that tax cuts will wholly — or even significantly — pay for themselves (through increased growth and federal tax revenues), appear to be no more accurate now than they were in the ’90s.

The numbers show that supply-side theory is accurate now and that it was accurate in the ’90s. With the latest evidence from the CBO in hand, as Daniel Clifton says, “It’s time to make the capital gains and dividend tax cuts permanent. Congress has no excuse at this point.”

– Donald Luskin is chief investment officer of Trend Macrolytics LLC, an independent economics and investment-research firm. He welcomes your visit to his blog and your comments at [email protected].