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VINE VOICEon March 2, 2010
Arthur Laffer is one of those pragmatic economists who seeks the most efficient way to accomplish a goal. He is the founder of Supply Side theory which is often conflated with Monetarist or Austrian economic thought, but which differs from the others in viewing taxes as central to understanding how an economy does (or does not) function. Writing again with co-author Stephen Moore, this book follows up their immensely popular "End of Prosperity" with a series of suggestions for how the United States can escape what is turning into a long term recession.

Good economics, Laffer argues, is not a "liberal" or "conservative" philosophy; it is simply the application of relatively easy to understand principles to solve problems in political economy. Those who assume that supply side writers have a natural affinity for the political right will be moderately surprised by the praise Laffer gives to the presidency of Bill Clinton and the ideas of Al Gore. But good economics does require a reasoned, thoughtful approach to policy issues. Reactive policies based on panic and fear are generally poor substitutes and Laffer is very critical of both the current administration and the previous one for their responses to the current economic crisis. President Obama, Laffer notes, is a very smart man, but his policies are counter productive to his own stated agenda.

Laffer offers numerous examples of how Obama's policies in fact frustrate economic recovery. His goal of "energy independence" for example ignores the benefits of trade and the comparative advantages that come from it. Generally speaking, if some parts of the world are oil rich but consumer poor, it is in the interest of both the US and these other countries to trade. But Obama's policies compound the problem by actually limiting the productive ways we could achieve greater energy independence. His administration is opposed to nuclear energy, one of the few forms of energy production with minimal carbon emissions (Laffer is neutral on the "science" of global warming, but for the sake of discussion assumes that limiting carbon emisions is a legitimate policy goal) which could easily be used in the United States to supplant power facilities that burn coal and other fossil fuels. In addition, the administration is actively opposing off shore drilling. Obama assumes that by doing so he is helping protect the environment. What he fails to recognize is that oil demand does not diminish just because the United States, which has an unblemished off shore drilling record, declines to access its reserves. If we do not, other countries, many of whom do not have the environmental protections that we do, will drill. Indeed, even as the US has failed to drill off the shores of Florida, the Cubans have done so. And the criticisms that Laffer and Moore offer of Obama's energy policy could be extended many times over to his approach on health care and "job creation" with government stimulus bills.

The bulk of the book, however, concerns tax policy, which is more or less what one would expect of the senior supply side scholar in this country. The proposal to increase taxes on the wealthy (those making more than $250,000 a year) and limit or cut taxes on the poor and middle class is counter productive. In classic supply side fashion, Laffer argues against his critics (notably Jared Bernstein) that raising taxes on the wealthy simultaneously reduces tax revenue from them and also short circuits economic growth. Supply side theory has many political critics, but few informed ones, and the numbers bear out Laffer's argument on both counts. Because the wealthy are so easily able to defer income and find other tax dodges increasing taxes on them does not generate new revenue.

The more radical claim of supply side though is that cutting taxes from the wealthy benefits the poor. (Mostly liberal) critics claim that cutting, or at least not increasing taxes on the "wealthy" benefits only them but not "the poor" whom they argue will face an increasing "gap" between their wages and the wages of the wealthy. This claim is also demonstrably false. The basic premise of the critic's argument is the assumption that the "poor" are a static group. But the reality is studies of the poor over time do show marked improvement. In the period from 1975 to 1998, to cite one of Laffer's more remarkable statistics, over 98% of the households ranked poor were no longer so. Similarly, in just the 10 years from 1996 to 2005 the income of the typical "poor" family increased from $15,000 to $31,000 in real terms. The reason the statistics cited by the critics fail to note this sort of phenomenal growth is that poverty is essentialy a function of a) youth and b) immigration. So as heads of households rise out of poverty, they are replaced by a new group of unskilled workers who become the new "poor" used by liberal critics to show the great disparity between poor and wealthy. But when measuring the gains of actual people as opposed to groups, one cannot argue against the fact that tax cuts for the wealthy were enormously successful at creating wealth across the board.

Needless to add, Laffer and Moore do not think allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire at the end of 2010 will do much to promote economic recovery. Nor do they think a tax increase will result in increased revenue for the government. But the bulk of Laffer and Moore's book is arguing for substantive tax reform as opposed to merely cuts. Some of their arguments will even surprise the crowd who think supply side theory is simply an apology for the wealthy. Laffer and Moore suggest the US abandon its current tax code in favor of a flat tax on income with almost no deductions. They do make an exception for mortgage interest, but that is about it. They even suggest taxing unrealized capital gains yearly, a modification that would do more to "soak the rich" than even the most extreme demands for a tax increase on "those making more than $250,000." The bill for Warren Buffet alone would run into the billions. But a flat tax would have a number of advantages over our current tax code, the most obvious being that it would give the markets a degree of certainty they lack now and would encourage, rather than discourage, growth. Laffer and Moore even propose rolling the payroll tax into the flat tax.

In all, I found this a thoughtful and cogently argued book. Laffer is indeed correct that, if the goal is to maximize government revenue then, to a point (and that point, all evidence suggests, is no higher than a 33% marginal rate) tax cuts, not increases, will do the trick. He is certainly correct that a single flat tax could easily replace our income, payroll and corporate taxes and incidentally save the US billions of dollars just in the cost of collections. And on his policy analysis, he is for the most part correct: a carbon tax is more effective than a cap and trade proposal; high minimum wages do hurt the poorest members of society, free enterprise zones are more cost effective than government welfare programs, and so on. But at some point, I think one has to move beyond the approach of a pragmatic economist. We should ask ourselves, is maximizing government revenue really a good thing? Do we really want a carbon tax instead of a cap and trade scheme if, as we now know in the aftermath of the CRU email and data release, the "science" of global warming is little more than the political agenda of small group of "scientists" who spend much of their time trying to silence their critics? If free enterprise zones are so effective, why limit them to only the poorest neighborhoods?

But an even more important question lurks between the lines of this book. As Laffer notes in the introduction, Mr. Obama is a smart man. He surely knows his tax policies do not match up well to his stated objectives, to say nothing of his purported concern for the environment. He must know that taxing those corporations that waste the fewest natural resources to subsidize those that waste the most (can anyone say "GM?") is counter productive. And yet, he pursues these policies anyway. Laffer charitably suggests that brilliance in one area need not imply the ability to pass Econ 101, but I suspect the problem is of a different nature. The stated policies of Obama do conflict with his stated agenda, but they do not conflict with the agenda of certain corporate lobbies which stand to benefit from the massive government intervention that is happening in the economy. On p. 152, Laffer notes, "No one with good intentions would ever advocate a tax increase" given the facts. At this point, I think it is fair to question the intentions of our rulers. But in any event, I doubt the policy recommendations in this book will be implemented any time soon. So I recommend this book to readers as a delightful intellectual exercise in what might have been. In the meantime, the most likely path facing the United States is 20 years of so of recesion much like Japan has experienced, probably with a massive dose of inflation. A "return to prosperity" is exceedingly unlikely. Readers of this book, at least, will be able to understand why.
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VINE VOICEon March 8, 2010
So many views on economics; so many theories.
Supply-siders will like this book, Non Supply-siders will not. Disclaimer: I am a Reagan/Laffer Supply-sider and I like this book. I did not read this book to bolster my own views but rather to see some way out of our current national economic/fiscal mess. As a fiscal conservative I have been appalled at both the Republican and Democrat out-of-control spending, and, Debit and Deficit economic sophistry. Instead of Gordon Gekko's "Greed is Good", the new mantra seems to be "Debt and Deficit Spending are Good ": Maybe they all are one in the same!?
Dr. Art Laffer, Ph.D, and co-author Stephen Moore, of the WSJ, write in a non-convoluted, layman's less dense, engaging and informative style, but it still requires the reader to pay attention to the mind numbing subject matter. The many graphs and charts help but still we're talking economics here not Lego building. The authors try to keep the theories and economic principles at the Econ 101 level, and they do a great job, but still you've got to be engaged to follow the Laffer and Moore logic.
Bottom line is they have a plan to get us out of our current bipartisan economic mess. Will it work? Logically yes, but politics trumps all in our emotionally charged world of political "New Speak." Rather than read, ponder, cogitate, digest, and say, "Mmmmmmm, they have some valid points," most non supply-siders will immediately go into the political attack mode. Changes to our current economic way of thinking and doing things is an absolute must, for we cannot survive going down the current national economic road: For that way lies financial ruin and economic madness. Somehow we much disengage from the current ideologies and reengage with the world of economic reality. Does Laffer and Moore have the answers? I have my views but it is for YOU to judge.
I recommend this book as another view point on today's financial mess and future fiscal uncertainties. Obviously something must change. The big questions are What and How. The more you can be informed the better you will be to make a choice. Sadly, there are both right and wrong solutions to our fiscal problems, and it is for US to decide. It is for US to choice wisely, for the future will be here in the blink of an eye. And the more informed one can be the better decisions We can make.
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VINE VOICEon July 2, 2010
I heard of Arthur Laffer through Dave Ramsey's radio program. After reading his book, I can see now why Dave is so enthusiastic about him -- his economic policies are filled with common sense. He describes in great detail how the federal government can actually receive more money by reducing taxes, a concept obviously not shared by leaders in power today. Even though Laffer has his political ties, he is non-partisan in his comments and observations. He praises Reagan and Clinton alike for their reduction in taxes and stimulation of the economy. He looks back to JFK, applauding him for departing from the policies of Eisenhower and slashing taxes. If you are open to a different perspective than the current one of wealth distribution through excessive taxation, then you are likely to enjoy reading this book. Laffer is brilliant -- it would be fantastic if our national leaders learned from his wisdom!
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on August 17, 2013
Although the author is an admitted liberal leaning sort, he does a great job of actual on site background work to support this book. Hydraulic Fracturing has been around for decades and although not the environmental bogeyman the Sierras would have you believe via the now disputed Gaslands, et al, there are pauses for concern. There is too much money involved here though, to see the Fracking boom wither. Most of the major energy companies are pouring billions into equipment, processes, chemical reformulations, and partnerships with the state and federal environmental folks to see this fail. Where he diverges from the free marketers is at the export discussion. Let's keep it here, says he, where the companies want this golden find to be open to the voracious world markets. What is not discussed in this arena is that many other international states are looking at their own supplies, and the fracking boom most likely will go world wide, bringing on more supply. If handled correctly, and I agree, this can be the cornerstone of a rebirth of the American economy. Most people today still are not aware of how big this is going to be for tat least the next 20-30 years.
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on March 22, 2010
Having enjoyed "The End of Prosperity: How Higher Taxes Will Doom the Economy--If We Let It Happen" I wondered where "Return to Prosperity: How America Can Regain Its Economic Superpower Status" would take me. Would I learn anything new? Indeed I did. While many of the proposals in "Return" were anticipated from "The End", "Return" went further. Of the two "Return" is the stronger book, not that I'd discourage an interested reader from enjoying "The End" as a prequel. I appreciated Laffer and Moore's deeper explanation of monetary policy. They provided the best explanation, I've seen, of the quantity equation of money (MV = Py), and I appreciated their challenge to the Phillips Curve. The Phillips curve never seemed to fit what I observed, particularly the stagflation of the late-70s/early-80s. Further, while I was certainly aware of Poverty Trap and how it locked recipients (I had collected research data from Aid to Families with Dependent Children as a student), I was alarmed that when the impacts of other entitlements earning more in gross dollars can lead to taking home less in net dollars. Yes, it is time for the flat tax.
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Prominent economist Arthur Laffer is a contrarian's contrarian. He urges trade with North Korea and Cuba, dislikes unions, despises stimulus packages, loves the flat tax and espouses offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (note, though, that the book predates the oil spill catastrophe there). The inventor of the Laffer curve (which says, not without debate, that cutting tax rates for rich people ultimately produces more government revenue) offers evidence for each of his zingers, though he meanders at times, and his points are sure to raise hackles. He issues economic warnings with the intent that "you should be scared," yet this isn't a partisan book - Laffer's informed insights, criticism and praise extend to both sides of the political aisle. He productively draws upon his own professional and personal experiences. When he writes that Americans are leaving high-tax states to move to low-tax states, he notes his own shift from California to Tennessee. Laffer is a supply-side conservative, but he voted for Bill Clinton, and he explains why. getAbstract, which recommends books but takes no political stands (the opinions in the Abstract are the author's), suggests this analysis to policy makers and students of economics who welcome a curmudgeonly but deeply experienced perspective.
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on July 3, 2015
I've always been a proponent of Laffer's economic theories especially the "flat tax". I feel that he gives a conservative but concise analogy of what our nation should do in order to become an economic leader again on the world stage. I've also enjoyed listening to Steve Moore's economic and political analysis on Fox Business News. Together, they are a winning combination who make a lot of economic revelations
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on March 22, 2010
Return to Prosperity did a great job of outlining what's wrong with our nation's current financial system and then also outlined, in detail, how we can move toward fixing it. Laffer did a great job of logically walking the reader thru the logic of his proposed solutions. Given the current tragectory or our government (especially with the recent passage of 'big government' health care), this message could not be more timely. Tragically, I find it unlikely that few of any of the ideas in this book will ever be implemented by the current group in Washington.
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on October 19, 2010
Dr. Laffer and Mr. Moore have written the long-awaited follow up to their previous collaboration, "The End of Proseperity." Though insightful and thoroughly researched, the book gets a little dry at times. A must read for those who beleive that America can and will return to its rightful place in the world market.
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on August 13, 2011
Excellent book except that Laffler is still living in the 80s when the United States was a leading producer and manufacturer of goods and services that the oil producing nations wanted to purchase. Those days are over. We need to be more energy independent, not 100%, but maybe 70-80%, as Mexico and Canada need our energy purchases to maintain thier economies, but not OPEC.
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