Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Deadweight loss is real, but depends on the situation

One frequent complaint you will hear about taxes (predominately from conservatives/laissez-faire/austerians/Austrian School/whatever-they-call-it-now) is that taxes are bad because they create deadweight loss. They view taxes as if that money is just leaving the economy, so taxes are evil but they stop arguing this when they start talking about the military-industrial complex and bank bailouts.

I would argue it depends on what the money is being used for and how that benefits or harms the economy in whether it is predominately deadweight.

If you are taking $18 billion and spending that on weapons to send to Egypt and Israel (we arm both sides) to the point where they don't need more weapons, it creates some manufacturing jobs here in the United States, but many of these weapons aren't used. It also means factories here at home are getting government grants to produce weapons. Planet Money Why couldn't we repurpose our military industrial production facilities to produce solar panels, the parts to Geothermal plants to tap into the North American-Pacific plate boundary in the vicinity of the towns of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, California which will help move us towards a sustainable energy future (which is also about the same cost as conventional coal and less expensive than the coal plants that are currently being built.) which will ensure that our economy is stronger. This does create some jobs, but all of the money that goes to the materials that produce the unneeded weapons is deadweight loss because that doesn't support jobs or anything beneficial for Americans, and the benefits are probably small compared to the cost. The difference is by definition undeniably deadweight loss.

On the other hand, other types of government spending can be beneficial. If we make it so that tourists can see more parts of America it could boost the economies of currently unserved inner cities like Nashville, Las Vegas, and Columbus. Expanding AMTRAK is the way to do this, because there is consistent proof that for every dollar spent on AMTRAK we get more than a dollar in economic benefits for the economy. AMTRAK is not an expenditure, it is an investment. We have the railroads and the money to do amazing things, we just don't have the will. Expect more articles on this here on my blog, it is one of the best ways to grow the economy. Well Researched Source 1 and 2

One other type of expenditure these deadweight people love to target is education. We spend a lot on education through the economy, and it drives conservatives crazy. With every expenditure it is critical to see the opportunity cost of not doing something. If we teach a child how to do math, write, read, speak a foreign language, do science, understand the world around them and why it got that way (history) it is very expensive, but it is more expensive if we don't do it. There is very consistent research that people with more education make more money over their lives meaning they are more valuable to the economy and more likely to make world-changing inventions. Some people love to talk about how college-dropout billionaires didn't need that college, but they all had some education, and usually dropped out to form the companies that made them rich. Out of 400 billionaires, 34 of them dropped out from college, or 0.85%. Bill Gates is an anecdote. Most of them are like Warren Buffett and have advanced degrees. Wikipedia When it comes to the economy as a whole, people who graduate from college are less likely to be unemployed and are more likely to make an upper-middle income (with a few exceptions, like teachers). BLS If we didn't have the types of programs that allowed these people become great businessmen we would all be the worse for it.

So, the next time someone complains about taxes and claims with their Bachelors that there is deadweight, ask yourself about the opportunity cost of doing it and you will have a better picture. Perhaps the $6.4 trillion dollars spent on education is actually worth every single penny.

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