Glenn Hubbard: The Romney Plan for Economic Recovery
Published in Wall Street Journal
We are currently in the most anemic economic recovery in the memory of most Americans. Declining consumer sentiment and business concerns over policy uncertainty weigh on the minds of all of us. We must fix our economy’s growth and jobs machine.
We can do this. The U.S. economy has the talent, ideas, energy and capital for the robust economic growth that has characterized much of America’s experience in our lifetimes. Our standard of living and the nation’s standing as a world power depend on restoring that growth.
But to do so we must have vastly different policies aimed at stopping runaway federal spending and debt, reforming our tax code and entitlement programs, and scaling back costly regulations. Those policies cannot be found in the president’s proposals. They are, however, the core of Gov. Mitt Romney’s plan for economic recovery and renewal.
In response to the recession, the Obama administration chose to emphasize costly, short-term fixes—ineffective stimulus programs, myriad housing programs that went nowhere, and a rush to invest in “green” companies.
As a consequence, uncertainty over policy—particularly over tax and regulatory policy—slowed the recovery and limited job creation. One recent study by Scott Baker and Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University and Steven Davis of the University of Chicago found that this uncertainty reduced GDP by 1.4% in 2011 alone, and that returning to pre-crisis levels of uncertainty would add about 2.3 million jobs in just 18 months.
The Obama administration’s attempted short-term fixes, even with unprecedented monetary easing by the Federal Reserve, produced average GDP growth of just 2.2% over the past three years, and the consensus outlook appears no better for the year ahead.
Moreover, the Obama administration’s large and sustained increases in debt raise the specter of another financial crisis and large future tax increases, further chilling business investment and job creation. A recent study by Ernst & Young finds that the administration’s proposal to increase marginal tax rates on the wage, dividend and capital-gain income of upper-income Americans would reduce GDP by 1.3% (or $200 billion per year), kill 710,000 jobs, depress investment by 2.4%, and reduce wages and living standards by 1.8%. And according to the Congressional Budget Office, the large deficits codified in the president’s budget would reduce GDP during 2018-2022 by between 0.5% and 2.2% compared to what would occur under current law.
President Obama has ignored or dismissed proposals that would address our anti-competitive tax code and unsustainable trajectory of federal debt—including his own bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform—and submitted no plan for entitlement reform. In February, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner famously told congressional Republicans that this administration was putting forth no plan, but “we know we don’t like yours.”
Other needed reforms would emphasize opening global markets for U.S. goods and services—but the president has made no contribution to the global trade agenda, while being dragged to the support of individual trade agreements only recently.
The president’s choices cannot be ascribed to a political tug of war with Republicans in Congress. He and Democratic congressional majorities had two years to tackle any priority they chose. They chose not growth and jobs but regulatory expansion. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act raised taxes, unleashed significant new spending, and raised hiring costs for workers. The Dodd-Frank Act missed the mark on housing and “too-big-to-fail” financial institutions but raised financing costs for households and small and mid-size businesses.
These economic errors and policy choices have consequences—record high long-term unemployment and growing ranks of discouraged workers. Sadly, at the present rate of job creation and projected labor-force growth, the nation will never return to full employment.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The Romney economic plan would fundamentally change the direction of policy to increase GDP and job creation now and going forward. The governor’s plan puts growth and recovery first, and it stands on four main pillars:
• Stop runaway federal spending and debt. The governor’s plan would reduce federal spending as a share of GDP to 20%—its pre-crisis average—by 2016. This would dramatically reduce policy uncertainty over the need for future tax increases, thus increasing business and consumer confidence.
• Reform the nation’s tax code to increase growth and job creation. The Romney plan would reduce individual marginal income tax rates across the board by 20%, while keeping current low tax rates on dividends and capital gains. The governor would also reduce the corporate income tax rate—the highest in the world—to 25%. In addition, he would broaden the tax base to ensure that tax reform is revenue-neutral.
• Reform entitlement programs to ensure their viability. The Romney plan would gradually reduce growth in Social Security and Medicare benefits for more affluent seniors and give more choice in Medicare programs and benefits to improve value in health-care spending. It would also block grant the Medicaid program to states to enable experimentation that might better serve recipients.
• Make growth and cost-benefit analysis important features of regulation. The governor’s plan would remove regulatory impediments to energy production and innovation that raise costs to consumers and limit new job creation. He would also work with Congress toward repealing and replacing the costly and burdensome Dodd–Frank legislation and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Romney alternatives will emphasize better financial regulation and market-oriented, patient-centered health-care reform.
In contrast to the sclerosis and joblessness of the past three years, the Romney plan offers an economic U-turn in ideas and choices. When bolstered by sound trade, education, energy and monetary policy, the Romney reform program is expected by the governor’s economic advisers to increase GDP growth by between 0.5% and 1% per year over the next decade. It should also speed up the current recovery, enabling the private sector to create 200,000 to 300,000 jobs per month, or about 12 million new jobs in a Romney first term, and millions more after that due to the plan’s long-run growth effects.
But these gains aren’t just about numbers, as important as those numbers are. The Romney approach will restore confidence in America’s economic future and make America once again a place to invest and grow.
Mr. Hubbard, dean of Columbia Business School, was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush. He is an economic adviser to Gov. Romney.