If anyone took the rationale for the Republican tax cuts seriously, the key measure is investment. The promise was that lower corporate tax rates would provide a huge incentive for investment, causing the capital stock to increase by roughly one-third over its baseline growth path within a decade.
As I have pointed out, the early numbers were not good. Capital goods orders fell in both December and January. The National Federation of Independent Businesses reports no notable uptick in the investment plans of its members.
The new numbers from the Commerce Department today look a bit better. Overall capital goods orders were up 4.5 percent in February from January levels. If we pull out erratic aircraft orders there was still an increase of 1.8 percent. That's a pretty good one month jump, but it follows declines in the last two months that totaled 0.9 percent. That leaves growth of 0.9 percent in the last three months or 0.3 percent a month.
The increase over the last year is 7.4 percent. That is roughly the same as the rate of growth before the tax cut. In other words, we're pretty much on the baseline path, with no obvious tax cut induced jump.
This may not be a great story for tax cut proponents, but at least investment is now moving in the right direction.