Trickle-Down Theory

DEFINITION of 'Trickle-Down Theory'

An economic idea which states that decreasing marginal and capital gains tax rates - especially for corporations, investors and entrepreneurs - can stimulate production in the overall economy. According to trickle-down theory proponents, this stimulus leads to economic growth and wealth creation that benefits everyone, not just those who pay the lower tax rates.

BREAKING DOWN 'Trickle-Down Theory'

President Reagan's economic policies, commonly referred to as "Reaganomics" or supply-side economics, were based on trickle-down theory. The idea is that with a lower tax burden and increased investment, business can produce (or supply) more, increasing employment and worker pay. Reagan initially slashed the top income-tax rate from 70% to 50%. Trickle-down policy’s detractors see the policy as tax cuts for the rich and don’t think the tax cuts benefit lower-income earners.

A contrasting theory, Keynesianism, is based on stimulating demand through government spending and other government interventions. An increase in government spending necessitates an increase in income-tax rates – the opposite of what trickle-down theory advocates. Trickle-down theory does not support government intervention in the economy.

According to the trickle-down theory, if tax rates are lower, people have an incentive to work more because they get to keep more of the income they earn. They then spend or invest that income, and either of these activities will improve everyone’s prosperity, not just the prosperity of those in the highest income brackets. What’s more, in the end, the government may actually collect more income tax despite the lower tax rates because of the additional work performed. The Laffer Curve shows how this relationship works. If the government taxes 0% of income or 100% of income, it takes in no money. In between these two extremes, tax revenues vary because different tax rates encourage people to work more or to take more leisure time.

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