Revenue has averaged 18 percent of G.D.P. since 1970 and a little more than that in the postwar era. At a similar stage in previous business cycles, two years past the trough, revenue was considerably higher: 18 percent of G.D.P. in 1977 after the 1973-75 recession; 17.3 percent of G.D.P. in 1984 after the 1981-82 recession, and 17.5 percent of G.D.P. in 1993 after the 1990-91 recession. Revenue was markedly lower, however, at this point after the 2001 recession and was just 16.2 percent of G.D.P. in 2003.
The reason, of course, is that taxes were cut in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006.
It would have been one thing if the Bush tax cuts had at least bought the country a higher rate of economic growth, even temporarily. They did not. Real G.D.P. growth peaked at just 3.6 percent in 2004 before fading rapidly. Even before the crisis hit, real G.D.P. was growing less than 2 percent a year.
By contrast, after the 1982 and 1993 tax increases, growth was much more robust. Real G.D.P. rose 7.2 percent in 1984 and continued to rise at more than 3 percent a year for the balance of the 1980s.
Real G.D.P. growth was 4.1 percent in 1994 despite widespread predictions by opponents of the 1993 tax increase that it would bring on another recession. Real growth averaged 4 percent for the balance of the 1990s. By contrast, real G.D.P. growth in the nonrecession years of the 2000s averaged just 2.7 percent a year — barely above the postwar average.
Few people remember that a major justification for the 2001 tax cut was to intentionally slash the budget surplus. President Bush said this repeatedly during the 2000 campaign, and it was reiterated in his February 2001 budget document.
In this regard, at least, the Bush-era tax cuts were highly successful. According to a recent C.B.O. report, they reduced revenue by at least $2.9 trillion below what it otherwise would have been between 2001 and 2011. Slower-than-expected growth reduced revenue by another $3.5 trillion.