Economics Department


Date of this Version



Copyright 2012 by Seth H. Giertz and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University


The U.S. faces tremendous short-term policy uncertainty, including about $5.4 trillion in tax increases over the next decade. These changes are set to take effect on January 1, 2013. It is unlikely that these changes will fully materialize, but what will happen is anyone’s guess. Over the long term, uncertainty also looms large since the U.S. federal tax system is expected to bring in far less revenue than Congress is projected to spend. In this paper, we detail the tax policy uncertainty that the U.S. faces and the economic literature to assess how this uncertainty may be affecting the economy. We then build on this literature by posing an additional avenue through which policy uncertainty may harm the economy. We argue that uncertainty fosters rent-seeking, which represents a shift between productive and unproductive or destructive entrepreneurship. We present a simple empirical model that lends support to our hypothesis. We then discuss principles for tax reform that could result in more stable tax policy.