It was 35 years ago that President Reagan signed ERTA or The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981. It took a couple of years, but it was “Morning in America” when President Reagan was reelected in 1984.
ERTA kept a promise that Mr Reagan made in 1980:
The ERTA included a 25 percent reduction in marginal tax rates for individuals, phased in over three years, and indexed for inflation from that point on. The marginal tax rate, or the tax rate on the last dollar earned, was considered more important to economic activity than the average tax rate (total tax paid as a percentage of income earned), as it affected income earned through “extra” activities such as education, entrepreneurship or investment. Reducing marginal tax rates, the theory went, would help the economy grow faster through such extra efforts by individuals and businesses. The 1981 act, combined with another major tax reform act in 1986, cut marginal tax rates on high-income taxpayers from 70 percent to around 30 percent, and would be the defining economic legacy of Reagan’s presidency.
Reagan’s tax cuts were designed to put maximum emphasis on encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship and creating incentives for the development of venture capital and greater investment in human capital through training and education. The cuts particularly benefited “idea” industries such as software or financial services; fittingly, Reagan’s first term saw the advent of the information revolution, including IBM’s introduction of its first personal computer (PC) and the rise or launch of such tech companies as Intel, Microsoft, Dell, Sun Microsystems, Compaq and Cisco Systems.
In the end, “Reaganomics” proved to be an electoral success even if deficits were a bit uncomfortable for many of us. I agree with The Tax Foundation that it was a “watershed event in the history of federal taxation,” I just wish that spending had been controlled more.
Unlike the Obama “stimulus,” the Reagan plan put its faith in the private sector and US businesses. The Obama stimulus was focused on helping their supporters, including unions and many very wealthy supporters, as John Lott wrote in 2004.
And this is why we remember the stimulus that stimulated in the 1980’s!