Originally published on by Distributed by American Forum

Beverly Caruso: Think Your Tax Dollars Don’t Create Economic Growth?

There’s heated debate over whether to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for families with incomes over $250,000.We’re hearing the argument that letting the high-end tax cuts expire will hurt business. Yet I’ve seen first-hand how well-designed tax policy is critical for spurring innovation and business development. It plays a very different role than the anti-tax crowd leads us to believe.

CyberOptics, a leading high-tech company in the area of electronic inspection, was founded by my husband, Steve Case, in 1984, and now employs 180 people in Minnesota and around the globe. How this business came about tells a very different story about the role of our tax dollars – and the public investments they support – in job creation. This is an important story to tell if we want to recreate the fertile ground that allows new companies to start up and become successful, sustainable job creators.

Steve was a physicist and entrepreneur, whose education was financed totally by National Science Foundation grants and scholarships. Later, as a young professor he would again gain our government’s support through a Fulbright Scholarship. The scholarship led us to Germany where Steve deepened his scientific knowledge and met executives in Europe who would become major clients of his new business. Steve always said that fellowship year had a profound impact on his creativity, confidence, and skills. As a professor at the University of Minnesota, his partnership with a government contractor made it possible to conceive of and establish CyberOptics.

Every step of the way, programs funded by our tax dollars paved the way for Steve and CyberOptics’ success. The return on our tax dollars through these investments has been high.

While it’s easy to think that companies like Google and Sun Microsystems are the result of one or two people with the intelligence, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit to take a risk and win big, the truth is more complex.

Like CyberOptics, these businesses rely on the court systems that enforce patent and copyright laws, roads, railroads and bridges that bring raw materials and deliver finished product, as well as the research and development grants to institutions of higher education, the high-quality primary and secondary public schools that educated generations of American students, and the grants and scholarships to those students during college and graduate school.

I would argue that the reason the United States has been so economically successful since the 1940s, is the combination of regulated capital markets and thoughtful, well-funded public institutions and structures. Steve’s story, like the story of so many American entrepreneurs, illuminates the role that public investment and public institutions play in creating the small companies that are the job engines we so desperately need.

Our country’s problems are large and complex, and we must attend to them now and cease putting them off. According to a report by Wealth for the Common Good, between 2001-2008, tax cuts for the wealthy cost the U.S. Treasury $700 billion, directly adding to the national debt. Retaining these tax cuts will likely cost another $700 billion over the next decade.

One thing we can do is to tell Congress to let the Bush-era tax cuts on the wealthy expire this year. The rise in incremental tax rates on people like me would be modest but the $700 billion in savings over 10 years would be a wonderful investment in the next generation. For those who have benefited enormously from our country’s investment, it’s time to share that opportunity with others. Letting tax cuts for the wealthy expire at the end of 2010 is a good and necessary first step.
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Caruso is a psychotherapist, community volunteer and civic leader in the Twin Cities. Her late husband, Dr. Steven Case, is the founder of CyberOptics, a high tech firm in Minnesota. Dr. Case was killed in a plane crash in June 2009.
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