High tax rates—on both labor income and consumption—reduce the incentive to work by making consumption more expensive relative to leisure, for example. The incentive to produce goods for the market is particularly depressed when tax revenue is returned to households either as government transfers or transfers-in-kind—such as public schooling, police and fire protection, food stamps, and health care—that substitute for private consumption.
In the 1950s, when European tax rates were low, many Western Europeans, including the French and the Germans, worked more hours per capita than did Americans. Over time, tax rates that affect earnings and consumption rose substantially in much of Western Europe. Over the decades, these have accounted for much of the nearly 30% decline in work hours in several European countries—to 1,000 hours per adult per year today from around 1,400 in the 1950s.
U.S. growth is currently weak, and overall output is 13.5% lower than what it would be had we continued on the pre-2008 trend.
The economy now faces two serious risks: the risk of higher marginal tax rates that will depress the number of hours of work, and the risk of continuing policies such as Dodd-Frank, bailouts, and subsidies to specific industries and technologies that depress productivity growth by protecting inefficient producers and restricting the flow of resources to the most productive users.
If these two risks are realized, the U.S. will face a much more serious problem than a 2013 recession. It will face a permanent and growing decline in relative living standards.
Source: The Wall Street Journal.