EC Will Tax Increases Derail The US Equity Bull Market?

The US stock market was reminded last Thursday that the Biden Administration plans to increase taxes to cover part of the cost of its spending proposals. This caused a pullback in the S&P500 Index (SPX) that lasted only a few hours. The next day the tax risk was forgotten and a marginal new all-time high was recorded. Does this mean that the stock market is immune to higher taxes?

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Before we answer the above question it’s worth pointing out that there always will be a substantial economic cost to a substantial increase in government spending, regardless of the method used to pay for the spending. Of the three possible payment methods, an increase in taxes is probably the most honest, because it’s the method that makes the cost of the spending most obvious to everyone.

Another method of paying for an increase in government spending involves adding to the government debt pile via the sale of bonds to the private sector. As discussed in a TSI blog post last week, the main cost associated with this method is the transfer of private-sector investment to government spending.

In essence, when taxes are hiked to pay for increased government spending then the cost to the economy is a reduction in private-sector income, whereas when debt is used to pay for increased government spending then the cost to the economy is a reduction in private-sector investment. Both methods will hinder economic progress.

The third method is to use “inflation”, a.k.a. “financial repression”, to pay for the spending. This is what happens when the central bank monetizes the bulk of the debt issued by the government to finance an increase in its spending. In effect, the real value of the debt is lessened over time by depreciating the money in which the debt is denominated. This causes a reduction in average living standards due to an increase in the cost of living relative to wages. It also magnifies economic inequality because it hurts the asset-poor to a far greater extent than it hurts the asset-rich. In fact, the asset-rich often profit from the debt monetization process.

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This blog post is an excerpt from a report published at the TSI website on 25th April.

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