Price elasticity, taxes and wages: Or, why I don’t take wingnut economics seriously

by Bruce Webb

It is I think a truism that in any economic enterprise all costs ultimately have to come out of price, that in the end ‘the customer pays’. But what is not true is that price is infinitely elastic, at some point price in and of itself will restrain demand, and while you can prop up demand through some things like advertising and marketing (the ‘gotta have it factor’), at some point the ancient principle ‘what the market can bear’ will kick in. This principle is so obvious as to hardly be worth stating yet many on the Right simply turn it off and on as needed.

This was highlighted in what Kevin Drum aptly called a checkbo9ok tax:

The Democrats supporting the current legislation have assured an anxious electorate that whatever funds are used to create whatever regulatory scheme created will come from the banks, not the taxpayers. Let me emphasize that so that even casual readers will catch it: the Democrats promise that you won’t pay for their legislation, banks will.


Since when have corporations ever paid taxes, fees or penalties? Employees end up paying in the form of lower salaries and benefits. Customers end up paying in the form of higher costs.

And in this case, every account holder will be forced to pay higher fees on their checking account and savings account. That’s you, my friendly reader. Can you say “checkbook tax”? I can, and I think lots of candidates will be saying it come November.

Yes, just as the entire Republican membership of the Senate is repeating Luntz’s last gem: “Taxpayer funded bailout”. But it is crap economics.

In wingnuttia, prices are entirely elastic in regards to taxes, they just flow through to customers. Yet they are sticky in regards to anything else, for example increases in minimum wage just cost jobs. Nowhere in the argument is the real claim revealed, that taxes squeeze profits, and that managers and owners are simply looking out for their own interests.

The argument that corporate taxes somehow are just double taxation because ultimately all cost has to come out of price is just bullshit, it is the internal division of the proceeds from that sale that make all the difference, and ultimately the sales price is disconnected from simple cost. Yet the Frank Luntz’s of this world trot this same ‘elastic for thee but not for me’ argument time and time again. And it WORKS! They can always sell just about anything by pretending that the main concern of the commercial operation is jobs on the one hand and low prices on the other when the reality is that the suits could give a crap about either, if they can boost profits by closing a plant here and boosting a price there they will. Everyone knows this yet somehow the Frank Luntz’s of this world can still sell this message with a straight face.

I just don’t get it.

Tags: , , , , Comments (42) | |