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EconDebates Online

EconDebates Online keeps you informed on today's most crucial economics policy debates. Each EconDebate, created by John Kane (SUNY-Oswego), provides a primer on the issues and links to background information and current, in-depth commentaries from experts around the world. Review the brief introductions and, for EconDebates of interest, select the full debate.

Taxes, Spending, and Deficits



Is a budget deficit harmful to the economy?

Full Debate 

In the late 1990s, discussion of U.S. fiscal policy often focused on how the budget surplus should be used. The recession of 2001 (and the subsequent "jobless recovery"), the Bush Administration's tax cuts, and rising military and homeland security expenditures have converted the the budget surplus into a large and growing federal budget deficit. The economic effects of this deficit have been the focus of a substantial amount of public policy debate.

Should the Death Tax Be Abolished?

Full Debate

The current federal estate tax, less formally know as the "death tax", was introduced in 1916 to help provide revenue to support military expenditures during World War I. While the federa estate tax was originally introduced to provide a source of wartime revenue, it has been kept primarily as a means of redistributing wealth.

How should the U.S. budget surplus be used?

After three decades of federal budget deficits, a budget surplus was realized in 1998. Economic forecasts suggest that such a federal budget surplus is likely to continue for the next several years (in the absence of a major recession or substantial revisions in fiscal policy). In the past, much of the discussion of the federal budget has dealt with the possibly adverse consequences of a federal deficit. Over the past couple of years, the discussion has gradually shifted to examine what, if anything, should be done with the federal budget surplus.

Will Social Security survive into the 21st century?

Full Debate 

While social security trust funds have existed from the inception of the program, the system has operated primarily on a "pay-as-you-go" system under which current workers pay taxes that are used to fund current benefit payments. Much of the concern about the future viability of social security is the result of this payment system.

How should we reform the current tax system?

Full Debate 

While virtually everyone agrees the the current tax system is excessively complex, there is no tax simplification plan that is universally accepted. The major problem is that most proposed changes in the tax structure will benefit some taxpayers and harm others.

Is more spending on infrastructure the key to economic growth?

Full Debate 

U.S. Presidential elections are often won and lost on the basis of the state of the economy in the period leading up to the election. When people are asked to list the economic problems about which they are most concerned, unemployment and inflation generally top the list. Economic growth is rarely mentioned as one of the most pressing concerns. The importance of economic growth is often overlooked. While the effects of growth may be small in any one year, the cumulative effect of compound growth becomes rather dramatic over time.

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