Comments about technological history, system fractures, and human resilience from James R. Chiles, the author of Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology (HarperBusiness 2001; paperback 2002) and The God Machine: From Boomerangs to Black Hawks, the Story of the Helicopter (Random House, 2007, paperback 2008)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

High Taxes, Low Unemployment: A lesson from WW2

Rather amusing to hear generalizations from politicians about how taxes must inevitably go against job creation. Here's a quote from Roy Blunt of Missouri, now a senator:
As I spoke with families and employers all over Missouri this last year, I heard one thing repeatedly: Job-killing taxes and uncertainty are the biggest deterrents to job creation.
Law of nature? As incompatible as matter and anti-matter? Apparently not.The lowest unemployment rate in American history, 1%, came at a time of very high taxes: that was the industrial boom of home-front America during World War II. As a writer for The Saturday Evening Post put it in 1943, “An orangutan with winning ways could get a job.” 

During the war, income-tax rates on top earners hit 90%. 

'Tis true that many downsides went along with the industrial boom that pulled us out of the Depression: high rates of workplace accidents, profligate use of resources, and gross pollution. (When writing about the de-mobilization of surplus after the war, I came across accounts of a munitions factory where the soil was so contaminated it was explosive to a depth of three feet. A place where even angels might fear to tread.)

Outside of meeting an all-out crisis, such a command-and-control economy can't be sustained, nor should it be.

But if a crisis comes that requires total mobilization of human and industrial resources, it's worth remembering that productivity, low unemployment, and high taxes can get along well.

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