By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) — Now that the Trump/GOP tax cuts are a done deal, the expectations game is in full swing. Will it turn out to be rocket fuel for the economy that sends employment and wages soaring to match the stock market, as the Republicans predict? Or will it be a spectacular failure that deepens the deficit and racks up pressure to cut social programs while enriching only the already-rich, as Democrats are forecasting?

All the noise notwithstanding, the success or failure of tax reform may wind up having more to do with other decisions and events than with the new law itself.

“The reality is if the economy is good then it’s gonna be good,” says financial analyst Dave Caruso of Coastal Capital. “But if the economy’s lousy, I don’t care what the tax break is. It’s a matter of economic activity continuing to grow.”

What might help make that happen?

A major infrastructure initiative would help create good-paying jobs, as would a promised increase in defense spending.

But Congress must figure out how to afford all that plus hurricane relief and other spending demands without further ballooning deficits that drive up interest rates and discourage investment.

While 2017 saw a booming market and lower unemployment, wages were stagnant, a long-term trend that could undercut public confidence if it continues. Unexpected events – a new war, or more natural disasters, heaven forbid – could quickly wipe out gains from the bill.

And the broader benefits of the tax cuts rely on the willingness of its corporate beneficiaries to share some of their newfound wealth, far from a sure thing. At a Wall Street Journal CEO forum this fall, the assembled executives were asked for a show of hands of who expected to increase investment if the tax bill were passed. Just a handful of hands were raised, leading a visibly shaken Gary Cohn, the president’s chief economic advisor, to ask: “Why aren’t the other hands up?”

A recent University of Chicago survey of dozens of economists found almost all of them predicted this tax plan would increase debt, not growth.

Now it’s up to the Congress – and the private sector – to prove them wrong.


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