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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – November 18, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise at Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

It’s Saturday, and the dominant issue should be the Republicans’ efforts to enact a tax cut, now that the House has passed its version of the legislation. The plan distills Republican economic philosophy perfectly: Take lots of money and give it to the people at the top, while pretending that doing so will help everyone else.

Speaker Paul Ryan said it’s a middle-class tax cut:

This plan is for the middle-class families in this country who deserve a break. It is for the families who are out there living paycheck to paycheck, who just keep getting squeezed… The Tax Cut and Jobs Act will deliver real relief for people in the middle, people who are also striving to get there.

David Leonhardt offered this view:

Amazingly, the bill…would increase taxes, on net, for families that have at least one child and make less than $100,000. That conclusion comes from a rigorous independent analysis of the bill, released yesterday afternoon by the Tax Policy Center.

The elevator version of the Republican plan is to add $1.5 trillion to the deficit in order to give permanent tax cuts to corporations. Since that sounds terrible, the GOP proposes holding down the bill’s total cost by raising taxes on middle-class and poor families. More from Leonhardt:

A big reason is that personal exemptions — the $4,000 in income, per person, that families can write off — would disappear. The bill would increase standard deductions that all taxpayers can take, but the increase isn’t large enough for many families to make up for the disappearance of per-person exemptions…

OTOH, households making at least $5 million would receive an ANNUAL tax cut of almost $300,000 once the bill is fully phased in.

The cynicism is spectacular: Congressional leaders want to raise taxes on most of the middle and lower classes, while claiming that the bill does just the opposite. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, said:

At the end of the day, nobody in the middle class is going to get a tax increase.

Worse, if the GOP tax bill becomes law, and we look a few moves ahead, we know that Republicans will once again pose as deficit hawks and look to gut Medicare and Medicaid.

On our backs. Happy Thanksgiving!

Our Republican friends plan to fund a permanent tax cut for their beloved constituents, American corporations. For decades Americans have been against increased taxes. We bought the idea that cutting taxes would give people an incentive to work harder and thus make the American economy flourish. The GOP tells us this as they try to roll back corporate taxes, as they plan to eliminate the estate tax, and as they continually work to prevent the government from taking action against offshore tax havens.

We endure potholes, we live in fear of collapsing highway bridges because our leaders want their special constituents to have more. Our kids sit in underfunded schools so that a handful of wealthy individuals can sit in gated communities or on their own private beaches.

Think of what we might do with the sums we will lose to this GOP “tax reform” over our lifetimes. Think about the crumbling infrastructure that could be fixed. Think of all the young people saddled with student-loan debt: We could make that unnecessary, rather than give more to corporations by denying students the deductibility of the interest on their loans. Think of the drug-addicted people all over America: With these tax cuts, we will never help them.

Until the words “discredited trickle down tax plan” come out of the mouth of every single Democratic politician, we won’t have a great chance of killing the Republican’s tax plan.

Enough! It’s Saturday, and time to let the mind wander. So grab a Vente cup of Union’s Hand-Roasted Coffee, Brewer’s El Topacio Microlot, El Salvador (just £8 for 200g). Now sit near a big window and watch the last days of fall, while listening to Beethoven’s “Violin Concerto in D major Op, 61” here performed in 1959 by violinist David Oistrakh with the French National Radio Orchestra, directed by Andre Cluytens.

Listen to the sound of a Stradivarius played by one of the giants on 20th Century violin:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – November 12, 2017

We live in the greatest country ever. Our elected leaders won’t even admit to global warming, much less try to fix it. They only offer tax cuts for corporations and rich guys. They don’t even want gays to have wedding cakes. And then, there’s Roy Moore.

President Trump wanted to call it the Cut Cut Cut Act. Congressional Republicans settled on the less catchy and less descriptive Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. What the legislation actually does is sharply reduce taxes for business while rearranging the personal income tax with a mix of cuts and increases. What’s needed is to throw out the tax code as we know it. The Paradise Papers show us where to find the changes we need.

From Hullabaloo:

Suzan DelBene (D-WA) demonstrated how corporations have successfully reconfigured government of, by, and for the people to prioritize the need and wants of business over those of the living and breathing. DelBene questioned Thomas Barthold, chief of staff for Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation on the proposed GOP tax overhaul:

Will a teacher in my district who buys pens, pencils paper, for his students be able to deduct these costs from his tax return under this plan?
Simple answer: No.

Will a corporation that buys pens, pencils, and papers for its workers be able to deduct those costs from its tax returns under this plan?
Simple answer: Yes.

Will a firefighter from my district be able to deduct the state and local sales taxes that she pays from her tax returns under this plan?
Simple answer: No.

And will a corporation be able to deduct sales taxes on business purchases under this plan?
Simple answer: Yes.

Will a homeowner in my district be able to deduct more than $10,000 in property taxes under this plan?
Simple answer: No.

Will a corporation be able to deduct more than $10,000 in property taxes under the plan?
Simple answer: Yes.

And if a worker in my district had to move because his employer is forcing him to relocate his family or potentially lose his job, can he deduct his moving expenses under this plan?
Simple answer: No.

But if a company, a corporation, decides to close its facilities in my district, fire its workers, and move its operation to China, say, can it deduct associated moving expenses under this plan? Or stated another way: Can a corporation under this plan deduct outsourcing expenses incurred relocating a U.S. business outside of the United States?
Simple answer: Yes.

Rep. DelBene told you all you need to know. Now, go tell your Congress critter to block what’s coming. On to this week’s target-rich cartoon environment:

Trump’s Chy-na visit showed who could out-negotiate whom:

Roy Moore defenders display GOP hypocrisy

Words to live by:

The Dem’s election results in VA and NJ show Trump’s pickup lines don’t work for the Elephant:

GOP reconsiders their 2018 option:

The Pervpocalypse is cratering plenty of careers:

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Here’s Who Benefits From Trump’s Tax Cuts

The Daily Escape:

Floating Village in Lan Ha Bay, North Vietnam – photo by Son Tong

Nobody knows what the final shape of the GOP tax plan will be, but we can see the financial implications of the current bill. Jill Schlesinger has a handy quick and dirty look at who benefits from the proposed cuts posted on her web site. Of the expected $1.5 trillion in tax cuts, only 15.2% will be for individuals. Schlesinger’s conclusion is that Republicans mainly want to help corporations:

  • $1 trillion will accrue to Corporations and Pass-through businesses
  • $228 billion accrues to Individuals
  • $172 billion accrues to Estates

Of the GOP’s $1.5 trillion government handout, corporations get two-thirds. Pass-through businesses are S-Corporations, LLCs, partnerships and sole proprietors. About 95% of businesses fall into this category. Many of these are professional service organizations (lawyers, doctors, accountants, consultants and architects) who otherwise are wealthy individuals, and those infamous hedge funds.

Estates will receive a Republican tax handout that is nearly as large as that provided to individuals. Today, roughly 5,000 people pay estate taxes under current law, but about 3,200 Americans would not have to pay the estate tax next year if the Republican tax bill is passed.

Think about that: 5000 individuals will split up $172 billion in tax relief due to Trump’s largesse!! In 2000, 52,000 estates had to pay the tax. Now it is down to 5,000.

Individuals include everyone who files a tax return. But even here, the WaPo says that the wealthy will do better:

Households with annual incomes over $1 million would see their after-tax incomes increase by 3.2%, 16 times the percentage increase for any income group in the bottom half of the income distribution. . . . (The disparity in average tax cuts measured in dollars would be even larger.)

About 45% of cost of the bill’s tax cuts would go to households with incomes above $500,000 (fewer than 1% of filers). About 38% of the bill’s cost would go to tax cuts for households with incomes over $1 million (about 3 out of every 1,000 filers).

What should the response of Democrats be? Democrats are correct in saying that the Republican plan is tilted too much toward the ultra-wealthy. They propose tilting it more toward the middle class.

Bruce Bartlett was a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a Treasury official under George H. W. Bush. Bartlett says that Dems:

Should counter with a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan and no tax cuts for anyone.

Bartlett points out that since the Clinton administration, Dems have tried to show fiscal responsibility, supporting tax increases and spending cuts. Meanwhile, Republicans abandoned any pretense of concern for the deficit, as their new budget shows.

Bartlett argues that a big infrastructure program will provide a payback for decades to come, just as Eisenhower’s highway program did. Importantly, he points out that building infrastructure will create vastly more jobs than any kind of tax cut, especially given the Republican proposal that largely benefits the wealthy, while providing no incentives for job creation or investment.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has routinely provided estimates to Congress showing that direct spending by government on infrastructure has a bigger multiplier effect on economic growth than any tax cut. Their February 2015 report showed that purchases of goods and services by the federal government raises GDP by as much as $2.50 for every $1 spent.

The report also says that a temporary tax cut for the wealthy, such as Republicans are now proposing, would create at most 60 cents of GDP for every $1 of foregone revenue. Corporate tax cuts are the worst, creating 40 cents of GDP for every $1 of revenue loss.

Our government is starved for revenue. This is not the time to even consider a tax cut for the wealthiest.

A true conservative tax policy would raise taxes to balance the budget, reduce deficits and debt, while investing in basic infrastructure, education, job training, research, technology and other drivers of growth.

That is the kind of conservatism we should get behind.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – November 5, 2017

This week, we all heard about tax cuts, the NYC terror attack, Trump’s Asia trip, and the World Series.

The GOP released their tax plan. The first analysis says everybody gets something:

Tax reform also brought up an old issue:

 

Trump’s trip to China won’t bring us any new “deals”:

The NYC terror attack hit close to home. One of the dead lived in Wrongo’s home town:

Hating immigrants, and hearing cries for extreme vetting have been on the agenda for a long time, as this 1903 cartoon shows:

Hat tip to Jack Cluth for the immigration cartoon

Houston got really good news this week:

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Can We Have an Honest Discussion About The GOP Tax Plan?

The Daily Escape:

When the dog lies about his previous sheep-herding experience

A new set of tax policies have been proposed by the White House and the GOP. They involve both tax cuts, and some tax reforms. Here are the bullet points of the GOP’s sales pitch:

  • The tax cut won’t help the rich, and won’t help Donald Trump personally
  • The tax cut will generate enough growth to pay for itself
  • Most of the benefits of the tax cut will go to the middle class

Here are the NYT’s calculations on Trump not gaining anything:

Trump could save more than $1 billion under his new tax plan

And here is the Tax Policy Center’s take on the benefits to the wealthy:

  • The top 1 percent of households (those with incomes above $730,000) would get about 53% of the framework’s net tax cuts, or roughly $130,000 a year on average.
  • The top 0.1 percent of households (those with incomes above $3.4 million) would get roughly 30% of the framework’s net tax cuts, or about $720,000 a year, on average.

Turning to the statement that “tax cuts will pay for themselves”, Trump claimed in a talk with House Ways and Means Committee a few days ago, that his tax plan will produce more than 6% growth.

An economist once said that you don’t need to look at the details of a Republican tax plan. The higher the Republican growth forecast, the worse the actual deficit in their plan. That’s because they need greater revenue growth to cover the deficit hole they are creating. Given Trump’s 6% growth forecast, you just know the tax plan is going to be a budget buster.

We have learned from past GOP tax cuts that they won’t reduce deficits or balance budgets. Want proof?

  • The George W. Bush tax cuts made the deficit larger, while doing little or nothing to stimulate the economy
  • The income-tax cuts in Kansas caused the state’s deficit to accelerate significantly, while economic growth lagged the contiguous states
  • Even Ronald Reagan’s tax analysts, David Stockman and Bruce Bartlett, have acknowledged that unfunded tax cuts don’t create growth, they make for bigger deficits.

Regarding the point that most of the cuts will go to the middle class, it won’t happen. Since 83% of the plan’s cuts are going to the top brackets, there’s not much left for the middle class.

What they don’t talk about is their plan to get rid of personal exemptions, which is a key deduction for middle class families, especially those who itemize deductions. To determine whether middle-class families get a cut or an increase under the new plan, you need to calculate if the higher standard deduction, plus the proposed expansion in the child tax credit, (no details about that yet), is greater than the loss of personal exemptions.

Josh Barro at Business Insider crunched the numbers, and his conclusion is: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

While there are still a lot of details to be filled in, the information we have available suggests the new Republican tax proposal would raise income taxes on many families who make just a bit more than the national average.

They are promising to eliminate the “alternative minimum tax”, (AMT) a tax provision designed to ensure that wealthy taxpayers (who can have accountants find deductions) would pay some modicum of taxes rather than get off scott-free. In fact, the GOP has it backwards: People who owe the AMT should be paying more tax than they would pay with the AMT. It serves its intended purpose. Elimination of the AMT is another tax break for the wealthy:  For example, Trump has had to pay the AMT, as have most real estate developers.

Now, ask yourself why should personal tax rates be less progressive in 2017 than they were in 1963? Shouldn’t progress towards a more equal society mean our rates would be MORE progressive, not less? It’s not as if we have less inequality, we have more.

The reason we should want to tax the rich (till it hurts) is to reduce their power and overwhelming choke hold on policy.

When will the GOP engage in an honest discussion about their tax plan?

Not soon. Maybe not ever.

Here’s First Aid Kit doing a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America”, from 2014:

We all need to look for America, its getting very hard to find.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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