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Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (ERTA)


The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (ERTA) was a United States federal law aimed at stimulating economic growth through substantial tax cuts. The legislation, championed by President Ronald Reagan, reduced individual income tax rates, corporate tax rates, and capital gains taxes. Additionally, ERTA introduced accelerated cost recovery systems, estate tax reductions, and expanded tax incentives for investment in real estate and equipment.


Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (ERTA) has the following phonetic pronunciation:ee-KAH-nuh-mik ri-KUH-vuh-ree taks AKT of nyn-TEEN ay-TEE-wun (UR-tuh)

Key Takeaways

  1. The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (ERTA) was designed to stimulate economic growth through a series of tax cuts and policy reforms. These measures aimed to reduce inflation, increase private investment, and boost overall economic activity.
  2. ERTA introduced significant changes to the federal income tax system, reducing individual and corporate tax rates. Key provisions included the reduction of the top individual tax rate from 70% to 50%, a 25% across-the-board reduction in marginal tax rates over a three-year period, and a decrease in the corporate income tax rate from 46% to 34%.
  3. While the tax cuts implemented under ERTA were successful in encouraging private investment and economic growth, they also contributed to a significant increase in the federal budget deficit. Critics argue that the benefits of the tax cuts were not equally distributed, with the wealthiest individuals and corporations reaping the majority of the benefits.


The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (ERTA) is significant because it marked a pivotal shift in the United States’ economic and tax policy by implementing substantial tax cuts aimed at stimulating economic growth and investment. Championed by President Ronald Reagan, this legislation reduced marginal income tax rates, accelerated depreciation deductions, indexed tax brackets for inflation, and expanded tax incentives for individual savings and investment. ERTA played a critical role in shaping the concept of “Reaganomics,” which emphasized deregulation and supply-side economic policies to foster a thriving economy. As a result, ERTA’s impact was profound on both short-term economic growth and the long-term trajectory of American fiscal policy.


The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (ERTA) was a federal law enacted in the United States with the primary purpose of stimulating economic growth and providing relief to taxpayers through a series of comprehensive tax reforms. This legislation was a key part of President Ronald Reagan’s economic policies, known as “Reaganomics,” which aimed to revitalize the sluggish economy of the time and reduce the tax burden on individuals and businesses. Aside from lowering income taxes, the ERTA focused on lowering corporate taxes, reducing the capital gains tax rate, and implementing strategies to encourage investment and the growth of the private sector.

One of the critical aspects of the ERTA was the gradual reduction of income tax rates, which was designed to allow taxpayers to keep more of their earnings and increase their purchasing power. This, in turn, was meant to bolster consumer demand for goods and services, ultimately driving business growth and job creation. Additionally, the act provided incentives for businesses to invest in new equipment, research, and development, which were intended to boost productivity and overall economic activity.

The ERTA also addressed the issue of inflation and made significant changes to the tax code to simplify the process, aiming to improve efficiency and fairness in the tax system. By targeting both individual taxpayers and businesses through a variety of tax cuts and reforms, the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 sought to foster a competitive and revitalized economy, setting the stage for an era of economic growth and prosperity that would last for several years.


The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (ERTA) was a major tax legislation passed during the Reagan administration in the United States. It aimed to stimulate economic growth by reducing tax rates and encouraging investments, particularly in businesses and real estate. Here are three real-world examples of its impact:

1. Reduced Income Tax Rates: One of the major provisions of the ERTA was the reduction in marginal income tax rates for individuals and businesses. The legislation cut tax rates across all income brackets by 23% over three years. For instance, the top marginal tax rate was reduced from 70% to 50%. This provided individuals and businesses with more disposable income, which in turn, was expected to boost consumer spending and investments.

2. Accelerated Depreciation: The ERTA introduced reforms that allowed businesses to depreciate their assets more rapidly. This was intended to encourage investments in new equipment and technology. As an example, the law introduced the Accelerated Cost Recovery System (ACRS), which allowed businesses to write off the cost of capital equipment over shorter periods, resulting in an increase in investment spending on capital goods such as machinery and technology.

3. Introduction of the “Kiddie Tax”: The ERTA also addressed a loophole that allowed wealthy parents to avoid paying taxes on their investments by putting assets in their children’s names. The legislation introduced the “kiddie tax” provision, which subjected unearned income above a certain threshold (e.g., interest, dividends, and capital gains) of a child under age 14 to be taxed at the parent’s marginal tax rate. This provision ensured that investment income earned by a child was not exempt from taxation, and therefore, helped maintain equitable treatment among taxpayers.

Overall, the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 was an influential legislation that helped shape the U.S. tax code for years to come. While its overall effectiveness in terms of economic growth remains debated, it did have significant impacts on the fiscal landscape of the nation.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What is the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (ERTA)?

The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (ERTA) is a U.S. federal law signed on August 13, 1981, by President Ronald Reagan, aiming to stimulate economic growth through a series of tax cuts, regulatory reforms, and other policies.

What are the key provisions of the ERTA?

The main provisions of ERTA include:1. Reduction of individual income tax rates, decreasing the top income tax rate from 70% to 50% and reducing lower income tax brackets accordingly.2. Accelerated Cost Recovery System (ACRS) was introduced, which allowed businesses to depreciate their assets faster.3. Reduction in estate and gift taxes by increasing the exemption amounts and reducing the tax rates.4. Allowing more favorable treatment for capital gains by reducing the capital gains tax rate.5. Expansion of provisions for retirement savings through expansion of IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts) and creation of 401(k) plans.

Why was the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 enacted?

The ERTA was enacted to address the economic recession of the late 1970s and early 1980s in the United States. The act was designed to stimulate investment, consumption, and job creation by reducing the tax burden on businesses and individuals, leading to increased economic growth.

How did the ERTA impact the U.S. economy?

The ERTA contributed to short-term economic growth during the early 1980s, partly helped by the reduction of inflation via monetary policies. The overall impact of ERTA is debated, with some arguing that it contributed to a significant increase in budget deficits, while others suggest that it helped create the foundation for the booming economy in the late 1980s and 1990s.

What are some criticisms of the ERTA?

Criticisms of ERTA include:1. The act disproportionately benefited the higher-income individuals due to the reduction in the top income tax rates.2. Increased income inequality as a result of the tax cuts.3. Contributing to the increasing federal budget deficits.4. The potential for encouraging excessive risk-taking and overinvestment due to accelerated depreciation allowances.

Related Finance Terms

  • Tax Cuts
  • Supply-side Economics
  • Kemp-Roth Tax Bill
  • Revenue Act of 1981
  • Investment Incentives

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