We’re against it!

So what should the Democrats say about the Bush “stimulus” program? Should they complain about the distributional impact, asking for something less skewed toward the half-million-dollar-a-year crowd, or about the size, asking for something smaller? Neither of those seems to me to be on target.

Let’s back up and ask what we want. We want substantial stimulus now. We want fiscal relief now for the state governments and immediate aid for the long-term unemployed. We want a big one-time infusion of cash into the public health infrastructure. We want fiscal responsibility for the long term. And we won’t sacrifice any of those to make the half-a-million-dollar-a-year crowd any richer than it already is. The issue isn’t rich vs. poor. It’s doing the right thing for the economy now, and the right thing for the economy for the long run, versus rewarding campaign contributors.

Substantively, the Pelosi plan looks pretty good. (More stimulus now, and lower long-term costs, than the Bush plan.) But rhetorically, trying to outbid Bush for middle-class interest groups is a loser.

Cutting taxes on dividends makes absolutely no sense. The stimulative effect would be trivial, the efficiency gain negligible, the distributional consequences awful, and the damage to the capacity of the federal government to pay its bills catastrophic. It would also put another big hole in state and local finance by driving up municipal bond interest rates (since common stocks will now provide a competing source of tax-free income).

That has to be the basic Democratic line: “This is a stinking crock of sh*t, and we’re not having any.” Not “How about something for us, too?”

RHETORICAL UPDATE

This morning’s papers are full of “Bush Proposes Plan to Stimulate Economy; Democrats Say it Favors the Rich,” instead of “Bush Proposes Another Round of Tax Cuts; Democrats Say Plan Would Wreck Economy.” Just what I was afraid of.

SUBSTANTIVE UPDATE

Brad DeLong passes along Barry Boskin’s defense of the Bush plan. There’s more justification for it than I would have thought. In particular, the fact that dividend payouts come out of post-tax corporate income but interest on bonds comes out of pre-tax corporate income generates a bias toward debt rather than equity finance, which a tax break on dividends received would to some extent counteract.

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Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com