Businesses (and Micro) Refute the Logic of Jobs Tax Credits

I wrote a few days ago about how I found the President’s American Jobs Act proposal to be less than stimulating and I updated my assessment yesterday.

Much of the proposal involves a lot of complex tax credit ideas that are supposed to provide the incentives for businesses to hire.  The idea is that if a $5000 or so tax credit is dangled in front of businesses, they’ll decide to part with some of the cash they are sitting on and hire.  It’s a dubious idea.  But it’s straight out of the conservative-thinking playbook. See this post for an explanation of the economic theories and thinking behind different types of jobs proposal. The conservative view and theories emphasive the supply-side. They posit that all can be fixed by providing greater financial incentives to businesses and that any form of tax is a disincentive.  The fact that President Obama has embraced these types of proposals is additional evidence, that contrary to the accusations that he’s a socialist or liberal, he is, in fact, quite conservative in his views.  He simply isn’t as conservative as the far-conservative/liberatarian wing of the Republican party would like.

There’s little historical evidence to suggest that tax credits for new hiring is a powerful incentive.  What I’ve always found interesting is that the economists and conservatives who propose these ideas claim that the theory underlying it is based on microeconomics – the idea that firms want to maximize profits.  But, in fact, it ignores basic microeconomic thinking about where profits come from.  Profits come from first selling something.  It makes no difference what your taxes are if you aren’t selling enough.  This is another reason why I think the idea of tax credits for new hiring will be a weak and relatively ineffective way of stimulating employment. It’s an expensive way to not get much results.  What really we need is an economy that spends more money.

To bolster my case, we can read about the reaction from many businesspeople in the New York Times:

The dismal state of the economy is the main reason many companies are reluctant to hire workers, and few executives are saying that President Obama’s jobs plan — while welcome — will change their minds any time soon.

That sentiment was echoed across numerous industries by executives in companies big and small on Friday….[M]any employers dismissed the notion that any particular tax break or incentive would be persuasive. Instead, they said they tended to hire more workers or expand when the economy improved.

Companies are focused on jittery consumer confidence, an unstable stock market, perceived obstacles to business expansion like government regulation and, above all, swings in demand for their products.

“You still need to have the business need to hire,” said Jeffery Braverman, owner of Nutsonline, an e-commerce company in Cranford, N.J., that sells nuts and dried fruit. While a $4,000 credit could offset the cost of the company’s lowest-cost health insurance plan, he said, it would not spur him to hire someone. “Business demand is what drives hiring,” he said.

On the other hand, creating lots of tax credits and tax code complexity will create some additional jobs and hours worked in one particular sector:  tax accountants and laywers.