One of the things making political news right now is an extension of the payroll tax cut. The Republicans in the House were originally against extending this tax cut unless it was coupled with offsetting spending cuts. The Republicans have backtracked now and have said they are willing to pass the tax cut extension without fighting over budget cuts.
As I have discussed this before, the payroll tax cut is not an effective way to reduce unemployment. To help get people back to work, the tax cut should go to the employer’s portion of the tax cut. This would reduce the cost of labor and help unemployment. Instead, cutting the payroll tax for employees is just temporarily helping people who currently have jobs.
Personally, I am happy to see a reduction in the payroll tax. I figure that the government is going bankrupt anyway, so I may as well take what I can get now.
However, I would like to take this example and perform a reductio ad absurdum. What if the federal government decided to eliminate all payroll taxes? What if the federal government decided to eliminate all federal income taxes? What if the federal government decided to eliminate all federal taxes?
Before you get excited, I am not talking about the federal government turning libertarian. I am not suggesting that all of the federal spending be cut in this example. I am suggesting the hypothetical question, what would happen if all federal taxes were eliminated and all government spending were funded by the Fed?
If this were to happen, it would obviously be highly inflationary. Why would people (or foreign governments) buy U.S. government debt if the only way to pay it off were to create even more money out of thin air? Of course, it almost sounds like the situation we have now, and yet people and foreign governments continue to buy government debt, along with the Fed.
However, perhaps the Fed could just fund the government directly by creating the new money out of thin air and handing it over to DC to spend. Whether the Fed was the only purchaser of U.S. government bonds or if it simply created new money and handed it over directly, it would obviously threaten the validity of the U.S. dollar. Although this example sounds ridiculous, it is ridiculous to think that the government has been running deficits well over $1 trillion for the last several years.
If the government were to operate this way with no taxes, then it would be the same situation we are in today, except that the day of reckoning would happen much quicker. There would be a threat of hyperinflation and a total destruction of the U.S. dollar. The only way to prevent this from happening in this scenario would be to cut government spending dramatically or to start taxing again. If it was only scene as a temporary measure to stimulate the economy (even though it wouldn’t create any economic growth without a cut in government spending), then the dollar might survive if people truly thought that the money creation would stop one day.
The Republicans were right to originally demand cuts in government spending to go along with the payroll tax cut. However, the Republicans have the majority in the House of Representatives. They can control spending whether it is attached to a tax cut bill or not. The House Republicans could stop all of the deficit spending by refusing to pass an unbalanced budget. But they won’t.
Enjoy your tax cut extension if you have a job. I would recommend taking the proceeds and buying some gold, or perhaps a passport, just in case.