Do capital gains tax cuts increase revenues?

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One of the most cherished beliefs of supply-side zealots is that cuts in capital gains tax rates always increase revenue. To be sure, there are often dramatic upward revenue swings right after the cap gains rate is cut. But that is in part because people can choose when to enter into the transactions that result in capital gains–and they’d be idiots not to hold off a few months if they know the tax rate is about to drop.

A better test is whether receipts are higher over the course of an entire business cycle. Last week, as part of its latest 10-year budget projections (pdf!), the Congressional Budget Office published its estimate of capital gains receipts in fiscal 2007. I’m willing to bet that, recession or no, FY 2007 will prove to be a peak in capital gains receipts that won’t be matched for several years. Which means we can compare it with the peak of the last cycle, in 2000. Here’s the chart, with the numbers adjusted for inflation:


So no, the reduction in the capital gains tax rate from 20% to 15% in 2003 did not result in an increase in revenue over the course of the business cycle. In 2000 receipts totaled $119 billion, which equals $143 million in 2007 dollars. In 2007, they totaled $122 billion. That’s a 15% decline.

Now I guess you could argue that 2000 was the peak of a once-in-a-lifetime stock market boom, making it an unfair comparison. But that would amount to admitting that forces other than the capital gains tax rate determine the course of the stock market. Perish the thought!