At last week’s 105th annual conference of the National Tax Association in Providence, R.I., former Clinton Treasury secretary and Obama economic advisor Lawrence Summers explained that the tax reform needed today is very different from the Tax Reform Act of 1986.
"It seems to me that the tax community will fail the broader economic community if, at this crucial juncture that lies ahead over the next several years, it remains entirely preoccupied with its most traditional concerns," Summers said at the conference, which I attended. "There are a number of aspects about the current context that stand out as quite unique -- very different from where the world was in 1986 and at most other moments when tax reform has been a prominent area of work." Summers sorted these differences into four factors:
(1) Now our economy is constrained on the demand side, operating below its full productive capacity so that we are looking for policies that can quickly boost the aggregate level of economic activity. That is in contrast to the full-employment economy of the mid-1980s, when the focus was mainly on improving efficiency in the allocation of economic activity to promote more longer-term, supply-side growth.
(2) In recent years, the income...