For years, Republicans have warned that President Obama's proposal to let the Bush tax cuts expire for the top two percent of taxpayers would crush "job creators." As Speaker Boehner protested:
"The top one percent of wage earners in the United States...pay forty percent of the income taxes...The people he's [President Obama] is talking about taxing are the very people that we expect to reinvest in our economy."If so, those expectations were sadly unmet under George W. Bush. After all, the last time the top tax rate was 39.6 percent during the Clinton administration, the United States enjoyed rising incomes, 23 million new jobs and budget surpluses. Under Bush? Not so much. On January 9, 2009, the Republican-friendly Wall Street Journal summed it up with an article titled simply, "Bush on Jobs: the Worst Track Record on Record." (The Journal's interactive table quantifies his staggering failure relative to every post-World War II president.) The meager one million jobs created under President Bush didn't merely pale in comparison to the 23 million produced during Bill Clinton's tenure. In September 2009, the Congressional Joint Economic Committee charted Bush's job creation disaster, the worst since Hoover.
That dismal performance prompted David Leonhardt of the New York Times to ask last fall, "Why should we believe that extending the Bush tax cuts will provide a big lift to growth?" His answer was unambiguous:
Those tax cuts passed in 2001 amid big promises about what they would do for the economy. What followed? The decade with the slowest average annual growth since World War II. Amazingly, that statement is true even if you forget about the Great Recession and simply look at 2001-7...faster economic growth or more jobs for Americans.
Is there good evidence the tax cuts persuaded more people to join the work force (because they would be able to keep more of their income)? Not really. The labor-force participation rate fell in the years after 2001 and has never again approached its record in the year 2000.
Is there evidence that the tax cuts led to a lot of entrepreneurship and innovation? Again, no. The rate at which start-up businesses created jobs fell during the past decade.
Mark Shields asked and answered in April:
"Do tax cuts help 'job creators' or 'robber barons'?"Just days after the Washington Post documented that George W. Bush presided over the worst eight-year economic performance in the modern American presidency, the New York Times in January 2009 featured an analysis comparing presidential performance going back to Eisenhower. As the Times showed, George W. Bush, the first MBA president, was a historic failure when it came to expanding GDP, producing jobs and even fueling stock market growth. Apparently, America's job creators can create a lot more jobs when their taxes are higher - even much higher - than they are today. CBO data on effective tax rates by income quintile.)