Bureau of Economic Analysis

This group of economists had, on one hand, a clearly defined goal of stabilizing the macroeconomy and, on the other hand, a set of policy instruments—economic variables such as taxes, government spending, and interest rates—that were under the control of policymakers. They also had a framework of analysis (the aggregate expenditure model) that explained how these instruments could be used to achieve their goals. Finally, they had a president who was willing to listen and take their advice. Never before had economists had such tools and wielded such influence. The opportunity to test their ideas arose toward the middle of the Kennedy presidency. In the middle of 1962, it was apparent to the Kennedy administration economists that the economy was beginning to sputter. The growth rate of real GDP was 7.1 percent in 1959 but decreased to 2.5 percent and 2.3 percent in 1960 and 1961, respectively. [2] Their response was to initiate a tax cut. As is usually the case when a major fiscal policy action is under consideration, there was a lengthy time lag between the initiation of the policy and its implementation. Even though the tax cut was proposed in 1962, President Kennedy never saw it put into effect. He was assassinated in November 1963; the tax cut for individual households and corporations was not enacted until early 1964. For households, tax withholding rates decreased from 18 percent to 14 percent, leading to an estimated tax reduction of about $6.7 billion. Taxes on corporations were also decreased; the reduction in taxes for 1964 was expected to be about $1.7 billion. By 1965, the economists expected that taxes would be lower by $11 billion. In 1965, nominal GDP was about $719 billion, so these changes were about 1.5 percent of nominal GDP. For many observers of the macroeconomy, this was a watershed event. The Economic Report of the President proclaimed 1965 the “Year of the Tax Cut.” In retrospect, these years were the heyday of Keynesian macroeconomics: for the first time, the government was using tax policy in an attempt to fine-tune the economy.

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