Obama Needs To Teach The Public How to Get Out Of The Mess We're In.

The president wants businesses that hire new employees this year to get $5,000 per hire, in the form of a tax credit. That will come to about $33 billion. It’s good step. He’s also supporting a cut in the capital gains tax for small businesses. That makes sense; after all, small businesses generate most jobs.

But here’s the problem. Both of these measures, and many of the other tax cuts he’s proposing, give ammunition to supply-siders who think the way out of this awful economy is simply to cut taxes on businesses. If a new jobs tax credit is a good idea, why not a cut corporate in income taxes? If it’s useful to reduce capital gains taxes for small businesses, why isn’t it useful to reduce them for all businesses?

The answer, of course, is that across-the-board supply-side tax cuts for businesses don’t increase the demand for the things businesses produce. They’re useful only to the extent businesses are confident consumers are out there, able and willing to buy. Carefully targeted -- as are the cuts the president is proposing — they can give businesses an extra nudge to hire. But without adequate demand, they’re useless.

So what’s the president’s new proposal for boosting overall demand? Hmmm. Turns out, he’s not really proposing anything new on that score. (Some who watched his State of the Union the other night thought they heard him call for a second stimulus. Actually, he didn’t, and as far as I can tell he doesn’t plan to.) His political advisers are telling him to emphasize deficit reduction instead. And that’s what he did Wednesday night when he talked about a “freeze” on discretionary spending, and a “commission” to look for ways to cut the deficit.

More after the jump.

--Robert Reich

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