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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Trump Gives More Tax Breaks to Corporations

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise at Delicate Arch, UT – 2019 photo by going_postal

While we were all celebrating New Year’s, the NYT published a story about how Trump’s Treasury Department quietly weakened elements of the 2017 Trump tax law, making it even friendlier to wealthy individuals and corporations.

As a result, the tax bills of many big companies are even smaller than what was anticipated when the bill was signed. This means that the federal government may collect hundreds of billions of dollars less over the coming decade than previously projected. The budget deficit has jumped more than 50% since Trump took office. It is expected to top $1 trillion in 2020, partly as a result of the tax law.

Lobbyists targeted two provisions in the original 2017 law designed to bring in hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue from companies that had been dodging US taxes by stashing profits overseas. From the NYT:

“Starting in early 2018, senior officials in President Trump’s Treasury Department were swarmed by lobbyists seeking to insulate companies from the few parts of the tax law that would have required them to pay more. The crush of meetings was so intense that some top Treasury officials had little time to do their jobs…”

Because of the way the bill was rushed through Congress, the Treasury Department was given extra latitude to interpret the law. Add the fact that the law was sloppily written, helped to make the corporate lobbying campaign a resounding success.

Treasury has issued a series of obscure regulations that carved out exceptions allowing many leading American and foreign companies to pay little or nothing in new taxes on offshore profits. The NYT says companies were effectively let off the hook for tens if not hundreds of $billions in taxes that they would otherwise have been required to pay under the 2017 law.

You may remember that the idea behind the Trump Tax Cut was that companies would get the tax cuts that they had spent years lobbying for, but the law would also fight corporate tax avoidance and the shipment of jobs overseas.

A few facts about the Trump tax cut: Republicans used a Congressional process known as budget reconciliation, which blocked Democrats from filibustering and allowed Republicans to pass the bill with a simple majority.

To qualify for that parliamentary green light, the net cost of the bill, after accounting for different tax cuts and tax increases, had to be less than $1.5 trillion over 10 years. But the bill’s cuts totaled $5.5 trillion. To close the gap between the $5.5 trillion in cuts and the maximum allowable price tag of $1.5 trillion, the package sought to raise new revenue by eliminating deductions and introducing new taxes.

The two key provisions are known by the acronyms BEAT (base erosion and anti-abuse tax) and GILTI (global intangible low-taxed income). Shortly after Trump signed the tax bill, lobbyists from major American companies like Bank of America and General Electric as well as foreign banks, swarmed the White House in an effort to gut the BEAT and GILTI taxes.

Trump’s Treasury Department largely granted the lobbyists’ wishes, turning what was already a massive corporate handout into an even more generous gift to big companies and banks.

In the last 2 quarters of 2019, we saw massive corporate share buybacks. The richest families and corporations pocketed most of that money, with minimal re-investment into company assets, increased employee pay, or benefits.

The folks who didn’t get what they needed were the bottom 90% of Americans. Welcome to the plutocracy where billionaires whine about getting picked on, and the bottom 80% own just 7% of the nation’s wealth.

The mission of the Trump presidency is nearly complete. He’s packed the Supreme Court with reliable conservatives. He’s delivered the Randian wet dream of low corporate taxes while leaving most corporate tax loopholes in place.

Trump’s version of the Republican Party is in their end game: Bankrupting the government, privatizing government’s remaining services, and stealing the silverware on their way out the door.

We have entered the smash-and-grab portion of the GOP’s program. They care, but only marginally, if Trump is re-elected in 2020. Their work is done.

The narrative that our economy is the best ever, was enabled by a record federal deficit. When it’s time to protect Social Security, or provide better access to healthcare, the GOP will cry about the budget deficit that’s likely to be more than $1 trillion/year, from here to forever.

Normalized insanity is in full swing. Welcome to the asylum!

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Saturday Soother – Amazon Bails on NYC Edition

The Daily Escape:

Marijuana Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands – 2017 photo by Wrongo

When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Michael Bloomberg agree on something, it’s worth taking seriously, and neither wanted the Amazon deal with NYC. And this week, Amazon scuttled its plans to build its HQ2 in Long Island City, (LIC) Queens, New York City, citing opposition by “state and local politicians.”

Amazon’s abrupt announcement to withdraw from the deal came after it was roughed up at two City Council meetings along with enduring the indignity of having to contend with anti-gentrification protestors and union leaders.

There were two big problems that Amazon faced in LIC. First, they were getting a huge tax subsidy, about $2.8 billion. The tax subsidy looked even worse when we learned this week that Amazon nearly doubled its profits to $11.2 billion in 2018 from $5.6 billion the previous year and, once again, didn’t pay a single cent of federal income taxes.

It didn’t help that the state and city announced the massive subsidies when both are also contending with large budget deficits. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, citing a shortfall of $1 billion in revenues, told city agencies to cut their budgets by $750 million by April. And these cuts would have to be recurring.

This helped build outrage about the nearly $3-billion corporate welfare program for Amazon.

The second problem was gentrification in the LIC neighborhood. Immediately after the announcement, real estate prices zoomed, precisely when Manhattan prices were falling. The NY real estate industry was to be one of the primary beneficiaries of the HQ2 project, but local residents would be driven out of their neighborhoods.

Amazon has a poor track record in Seattle. They had fiercely opposed a local tax on large companies to fund housing for the homeless, and got it reversed one month after it had taken effect. Microsoft, after the tax law was scuppered, pledged $500 million to fund affordable housing for the low and middle income in the Puget Sound area, and encouraged other companies to make similar efforts.

Amazon didn’t join with Microsoft.

All is not lost. Amazon says it will still be expanding employment in NYC. And LIC has been a hot real estate/development market for several years, long before Bezos started playing his urban version of the Hunger Games. If the commercial construction in LIC over the past five years was happening in a second-tier US city, it would be equivalent to an entirely new business district.

A third problem was Amazon’s sense of entitlement. They expected zero push back, and their New York City campaign was inept. Amazon seems to have thought that since it had the governor and mayor in its pocket, all it had to do was show up for photo ops. The NYT points out Amazon didn’t even hire a native to grease the wheels:

“…the company did not hire a single New Yorker as an employee to represent it in discussions with local groups. Its main representatives traveled between Washington and Manhattan, and only one had moved into an apartment to work with community members and foster support.”

Amazon’s leaving was celebrated by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who represents the district. She complained about the “creeping overreach of one of the world’s biggest corporations“, and maybe that was the final straw for Bezos.

So props to AOC, and to the local politicians for standing up to this example of corporate welfare.

It’s possible that Jeff Bezos’s sudden change of heart was that he couldn’t stomach the idea of not being able to push around NYC the way he bullied Seattle into dropping its homeless tax. In NYC, he’d have to curry favor, feign interest in the concerns of locals, and make occasional contributions to the city.

Bezos may have felt all that was too high a price. But we should assume Amazon penciled out the deal, and didn’t like the result. For Amazon, it may have been a prudent business decision, artfully dressed up as a response to the political opposition the incentive package was facing.

Maybe, it’s no longer business as usual in America. AOC and other young people may not have money, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use power.

These corporate tax subsidy deals never add up for the cities that make them. Maybe people in other cities will learn from this NYC moment, and fight against the selling of our cities and towns to the uber-wealthy.

Now, it’s time to let go of Amazon, AOC, and Trump’s National Emergency. It’s time to get some Saturday Soothing.

Start by brewing up a vente cup of Roasting Rabbi Coffee, where the company slogan is: “Releasing the Holy Spark in Each Bean!” Try their Breakfast Blend.

Now settle into your most comfy chair and listen to Valentina Lisitsa play Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, recorded live in May, 2010 in Leiden, Holland:

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

 

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Tax Abatements Are Killing School Budgets

The Daily Escape:

Egmont National Park, NZ – photo by vicarious_NZ

A new report shows that US public schools in 28 states lost at least $1.8 billion in tax revenues last year as a result of tax incentives granted to corporations. The study analyzed the financial reports of 5,600 of the nation’s 13,500 independent public school districts.

Good Jobs First examined the first full year of reporting under a new accounting standard for school districts, adopted by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), the body that sets accounting rules for all states and most localities. The new rule, GASB Statement No. 77 on Tax Abatement Disclosures, requires most state and local governments to report annually on the amount of revenue they’ve lost to corporate tax abatements.

This is extremely important, since most local schools are very dependent on revenue from property taxes, but they rarely have influence over corporate tax abatements granted by their towns, and/or the cities or counties where they are located.

And local voters have had no way to see how much they are forced to pay in additional taxes that were lost to enrich the pockets of corporate employers.

Good Jobs found that the 10 most affected states could have hired more than 28,000 new teachers if they were able to use the lost revenues. Or, they could have avoided higher home property taxes, or provided their teachers with better resources, or higher pay.

States and cities have long used abatements and other tax incentives to lure companies, or to keep them from leaving, and/or to encourage them to expand locally. Often, those companies make their choice of location based on the quality of local schools and colleges.

These abatement deals are made by local politicians and are meant to boost local economic development. Their proponents say the lost tax revenue is worth it, because they grow the local economy. But it is difficult to know whether the benefits outweigh the burdens.

And until GASB 77, it has been impossible to see just how much a school system may have lost because of a company’s tax break. The new rule is especially helpful in understanding local schools finances, because it requires the reporting of revenue losses even if they are suffered passively by the school system as the result of decisions made by another body of government.

Of the five districts that lost the most, three are in Louisiana. Together, they lost more than $158 million, or $2,500 for each student enrolled. The School District of Philadelphia, which only last year regained local control from the state after climbing out of a deep fiscal crisis, lost the second most revenue at $62 million.

Overall, nearly 250 school districts lost at least $1 million each, and in four districts, tax abatements reduced classroom resources by more than $50 million.

But most school districts have not yet complied with Rule 77, which was implemented in 2015. Good Jobs First estimates that another $500 million of subsidies and abatements are currently unreported.

Most of us believe that our governments are supposed to govern in the interests of the “general welfare,” that when voters put people in positions of power, based on the legitimacy of our electoral process, is the limit of our responsibility as voters.

We accept that somebody has to say what the rules are, and then enforce them.

But in our neoliberal economic times, voters have to remember that our governments often act as wholly owned subsidiaries of the 1%. It takes suspension of belief to accept that our republic, ruled as it is by an oligarchy, is working for the general welfare of all of our citizens.

Why do we think that, our “governments”, all of which are subject to capture and ownership by the few, are going to somehow provide decency, comity, or fairness to all of us?

We need to abandon the article of faith that the free market, one without government oversight, promotes the best economic outcome for all of us.

Today’s inequality says the opposite.

We need a new vision of the role of government. But it isn’t really a “new” vision. It is simply a return to insisting on the “promotion of the General Welfare for all” as the paramount object of government.

Here’s another thought from Gordon Wood, in his book, Creation of the American Republic:

In a republic each individual gives up all private interest that is not consistent with the general good, the interest of the whole body. For the republican patriots of 1776 the commonweal was all encompassing—a transcendent object with a unique moral worth that made partial considerations fade into insignificance.

The last outcome that American revolutionaries wanted was to be ruled by oligarchs. But, here we are.

We need to reform our capitalism.

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Monday Wake Up Call – December 4, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Old railroad tracks near Folsom, CA – December 2017 photo by Merrill Dodd

This will be Wrongo’s last column discussing the tax bill. Here is a chart describing the differences between the Senate and House tax bills:

Source: WSJ

The big question is will the tax bill really go through reconciliation, or can Paul Ryan convince House Republicans to vote for it essentially as is? The three factions Ryan has to deal with inside his own party might make a straight agreement a hard sell. Will a successful reconciliation happen? Odds seem to be in its favor. However, things could go sideways. There’s plenty in the bills to anger just enough of the three Republican House factions, and they’re more exposed to a potential 2018 wave election than the Senators. State and local tax deduction are a sticking point, and what about the deficit? It will be an interesting and stressful next few weeks.

Returning to yesterday’s David Stockman’s analysis: The standard deduction is doubled in both bills to $24,000 per household, costing $737 billion while changing the tax brackets from seven to four (in the House bill) costs $1.17 trillion.

When all the puts and takes are finished on the personal income tax side, what America gets from 2018-2027 is a $1.20 trillion net reduction in personal income taxes. But, as we showed in yesterday’s chart, dead people and rich people stand to benefit the most.

So, what’s left is a tiny $352 billion tax cut for rest of America’s 145 million tax filers over the entire next decade. On average, that’s about $242 per person per year!

Couldn’t $1.4 trillion been better spent on refurbishment of our infrastructure rather than in giveaways to corporations? Do corporations really need more government aid at a time when they are recording near-record profits, and hold huge cash reserves that they are not spending on hiring, wage increases or investment in the USA?

It’s long past time for America to wake up!! Whether you support the tax bill or hate it, it’s also past time to clean out the sewer that is Congress. It will take about six years of organizing, finding progressive candidates, and GETTING OUT THE VOTE, to deliver mostly new faces in DC.

We must break up the “old thugs club” that Congress has become. To help us wake up and start on political renewal, let’s listen to George Harrison’s “Taxman”. This was the Beatles’ musical complaint about how much they were paying in taxes in the UK. “Mr. Wilson” and “Mr. Heath” are mentioned in the lyrics. They are former British Prime Ministers Harold Wilson and Edward Heath, who contributed to writing English tax laws that at one point had a 95% marginal tax rate.

There are no high-def video recordings of the tune available online by the Beatles (it was released in 1966 on “Revolver”), so here is Joe Bonamassa performing “Taxman” live at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, in June 2016. It’s his bluesy take on the Beatles’ pop sensibilities:

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

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Saturday Soother – December 2, 2017

The Daily Escape:

St Petersburg Russia’s Church of the Saviour – photo by Amos Chapple

As Wrongo writes this on Friday, it appears that the Senate Republicans have the votes to pass their version of the tax bill. The House passed their version on November 16th. The House Republican’s tax bill includes a major shift in tax policy that will mean a hidden tax increase on every American taxpayer over the coming decades. From the Washington Times:

Republican tax-writers have decided to shift the tax code’s inflation index from the Consumer Price Index, or CPI, to something known as chained CPI, which is a slower-growing method of calculating cost-of-living increases.

How would this work? The new tax proposal replaces the current CPI, which is based on changes in prices for urban consumers, with the chained CPI. Various estimates show that this method would lower reported inflation by as much as 0.30% a year.

This will create two pocketbook issues for taxpayers. First, using a lower rate of inflation to calculate future tax rates will mean that tax brackets will adjust more slowly than with regular CPI. Therefore, taxpayers will move into higher tax brackets if their income increases faster than chained CPI, paying more in taxes. More from the Washington Times: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

It works out to taxpayers paying $128 billion more to Uncle Sam than they would otherwise over the next decade, and $500 billion more in the subsequent decade.

Second, chained CPI will change how the government calculates inflation for the purpose of adjusting Social Security payments. CPI is the basis for cost-of-living adjustments that affect many government benefits. If the measure of inflation is reduced, then the increases in Social Security payouts to the public would also be lowered.

This, despite the fact that CPI already tends to under-report price increases. If chained CPI is implemented, Barry Ritholtz says: (emphasis and brackets by the Wrongologist)

It would allow Congress to come up with about half of the funds needed to cover the proposed GOP tax cuts by pushing more people into higher tax brackets and [by]…creating a hidden tax on everyone who will ever get Social Security in the future.

This is based on the long-held Republican idea that “if only we could lower inflation as reported in the consumer price index, we could afford more tax cuts.”

And adopting chained CPI will reduce future Social Security payments without America having any sort of honest debate about it. You can compare the two measures of inflation side by side at this Bureau of Labor Statistics page: Chained consumer price index for all urban consumers (C-CPI-U) and the consumer price index.

When Trump was elected, the floodgates were opened. Any old, bad Republican idea is now legitimate.

Assuming that the House and Senate bills are reconciled and a tax bill is passed and signed by Trump, it may well be the worst piece of legislation in a century. It would finally undo the legacy of both FDR and Lyndon Johnson, something that has been a wet dream of the Right for generations. Emboldened by its passage, the GOP will follow it by taking a scythe to much of what remains of the social safety net.  Worse still, since the GOP is doing away with the inheritance tax, Republicans will have ensconced themselves as a permanent, hereditary financial and governing elite.

That will surely make America Great Again.

We have to get up off the couch, and fight for what remains of the New Deal and Great Society programs. This fight will be town-by-town, political office by political office, until progressives can compete in every red state for control of its legislature and governorship.

It’s another Saturday, the end of a long week in which it became clear that the country is approaching a cliff. We need some inspiration. So we turn to Meghan Markle.

Wrongo hadn’t heard of Meghan Markle until her engagement to the guy who is 6th in the line of succession to the throne in England, splashed across the news. But, it turns out she is an intelligent, independent person with agency. Markle was named the UN’s Woman’s Advocate for Political Participation and Leadership in 2015. Here she is speaking about advocacy at the 2015 UN Women conference. It’s a winning and inspiring performance, and, while it’s a sample of one, it shows that Millennials are gonna do a fine job with the planet:

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

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Reagan’s Tax Cuts Are No Model for Today’s GOP

The Daily Escape:

Colima Volcano, Mexico, December 2015 – photo by Sergio Tapiro, National Geographic 2017 photographer of the year

Republicans are patting themselves on the back about their coming tax cuts, comparing it to the famous (infamous?) Regan tax cuts, known as the Tax Reform Act of 1986. From the Economist:

During the three decades since its passage, Democrats and Republicans alike have hailed the law not only for overhauling the country’s tax system…but also for doing so with bipartisan support in both houses of Congress.

Unlike the bi-partisan review of our tax system that occurred from 1984 to 1986, Donald Trump has promised to sign a bill by Christmas, just two months after the first legislative text was introduced.

Congressional Republicans originally promised that any reform would not reduce overall revenues. But they have flip-flopped: The current plan is expected to raise deficits by between $1.3 and $1.5 trillion over its 10-year life. And according to figures from the Joint Committee on Taxation, most of the benefits will go to the rich. Reagan’s reform did the opposite. The left hand chart below shows the Reagan tax cut in blue and the Trump tax cut in red. The x axis is annual income, while the y axis is the percentage of taxpayers receiving a tax cut:

Source: The Economist

The gaps in share of taxpayers receiving a cut are stunning. Between 35-55% of those under $40k in income will receive a benefit under the Trump plan, while between 70-80% of the same group received a cut under the Reagan tax plan.

It gets worse when we look at the right hand chart above. The x axis shows the percentage change in after-tax income by earnings level. Reagan’s cut gave those making between $10k-$50k an increase in take home pay by between 0.25% and 1.5%. Trump’s plan will leave them at ± 0% change in take-home income, while those who make from $50k to $200k will do significantly better under the Trump plan than under Reagan.

And an article of faith for the GOP is that the tax cut will stimulate the economy. Let’s unpack this a bit. The bill provides interim tax relief of about $1.38 trillion during 2018-2025 before the tax sunset provisions kick-in. That equals 4.2% of current tax revenue collections during the 8- year period, and only about 0.8% of GDP.

It’s hard to see how an 0.8% stimulus to GDP is going to bring on a growth tsunami, or add tons of new jobs.

Back to the Reagan tax cut, it had no measurable effect on the trend rate of economic growth, and when it was fully implemented, it amounted to 6.2% of GDP, not 0.8%, .

Finally, when the Tax Policy Center costed out the Senate Finance Committee bill, it showed that by year 10, not one of the 150 million individual filers will still be getting a tax benefit. And most importantly, the single tax cut item left in the statute, the 20% corporate rate, which stays in place permanently, costs America $171 billion in lost revenue in 2027. From David Stockman:

Likewise, the latest distributional analysis [probably from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities] shows that in 2025, before the sunset,-the bottom 30 million tax filers would get an average “tax cut” which amounts to the grand sum of $1.15 per week….the next 30 million filers would only get $7 per week; and the middle quintile—-the 30 million tax filers between $55,000 and $95,000 per year and the heart of the middle class—– would get just $17 per week of tax relief in 2025.

Hardly seems worthy of Paul Ryan’s gloating about how he’s helping the middle class. The people know that they have no control over what happens, they just want to see how much more they will have to spend (pay?) when the dust settles.

And that’s why Paul Ryan and Donald Trump gloat. They show the rubes a dollar, and then send $1000 to their corporate benefactors.

This will be the GOP’s paradise after they enact the Trump tax plan:

 

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Here Comes the Retail Apocalypse

The Daily Escape:

The Oberlausitzische Library of Science, Gorlitz Germany

There is a growing concern that the mall as we know it is in big trouble. RadioShack, The Limited, Payless, and Toys“R”Us were among 19 retail bankruptcies this year. From Dave Dayden: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

This story is at odds with the broader narrative about business in America: The economy is growing, unemployment is low, and consumer confidence is at a decade-long high. This would typically signal a retail boom, yet the [retail store] pain rivals the height of the Great Recession.

Many point to Amazon and other online retailers as taking away market share, but e-commerce sales in the second quarter of 2017 were 8.9% of total sales. There are three reasons for so many sick retailers.

First, while online sales are “only” 8.9% of total retail sales, these businesses have very high fixed costs and low net profit margins. The Stern School at NYU tracks net profit margins on thousands of businesses across many sectors, including retail. The margins for Specialty retail for the year ending January 2017 was 3.17%. It was 1.89% for Grocery and 2.60% for General retailers. If a high fixed cost business loses 9% of sales, it can easily wipe out the bottom line.

Second, many retail companies carry high debt levels. Bloomberg explains that private equity firms (PE’s) have purchased numerous retail chains over the past decade via leveraged buyouts, where debt is the primary source of the money used to buy the business. There are billions in borrowings on the balance sheets of troubled retailers, and sustaining that load is only going to become harder if interest rates rise.

Third, there are just too many stores in our cities and suburbs to sustain sales in a world where online shopping is growing rapidly.

Worse, billions of dollars of that PE-arranged debt come due in the next few years. More from Bloomberg:

If today is considered a retail apocalypse…then what’s coming next could truly be scary.

This chart shows what percentage of retail real estate loans are delinquent by area:

Source: Trepp

There are large areas of America where more than 20% of the loans are past due. More from Bloomberg: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Through the third quarter of this year, 6,752 locations were scheduled to shutter in the US, excluding grocery stores and restaurants, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. That’s more than double the 2016 total and is close to surpassing the all-time high of 6,900 in 2008…Apparel chains have by far taken the biggest hit, with 2,500 locations closing. Department stores were hammered, too, with Macy’s Inc., Sears Holdings Corp. and J.C. Penney Co. downsizing. In all, about 550 department stores closed, equating to 43 million square feet, or about half the total.

This threatens the retail sales staff and cashiers who make up 6% of the entire US workforce, a total of 8 million jobs. These workers are not located in any one region; the entire country will share in the pain.

These American retail workers could see their careers evaporate, largely due to the PE’s financial scheme. The PE’s, however, will likely walk away enriched, and policymakers will share the blame since they enabled the carnage.

Our tax code makes corporate interest payments tax-deductible. So the PE kingpins load up these companies with debt and when they walk away, they get tax credits for any write-offs, incentivizing them to borrow and play the game again. The PE firm might lose some or all of its equity, but in most cases, it already drew cash out via special dividends and fees, so it has made its money.

The lenders, employees, state development authorities are the ones left holding the bag.

The GOP’s new tax plan proposes a cap on the deductibility of interest payments over 30% of a company’s earnings. But, the GOP left a loophole: Real estate companies are exempt from the cap.

Surprisingly, this benefits Donald Trump’s businesses! It also helps PE firms that split the operating side of the businesses they buy from the property side, as most do. They put the borrowing onto the property side, and continue to deduct the interest.

So financialization businesses like PE will continue to strip the value out of companies with hard assets.

Billions in asset-stripping and thousands of operations sent overseas. Labor participation rate is stagnant, yet we are assured that if we pass big corporate tax cuts, the US economy will grow fast enough to more than compensate for the losses.

What’s wrong with this picture?

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Monday Wake Up Call – November 20, 2017

The Daily Escape:

El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore in Buenos Aires, which has more bookstores per person than any other city in the world – photo by Alamy

One of the arguments that Republicans use to support their tax bill is that it will unleash investment, but the data say otherwise. Currently, most US economic sectors are operating far below maximum capacity utilization. Here is a Federal Reserve chart showing current industrial utilization/capacity:

The left axis shows the percentage of utilization across both durable and non-durable goods. The US is currently tracking at about 75% utilization, which is about as low as it gets in non-recession times. What that implies is corporations have no need to invest in additional capacity in the US. They have plenty of spare capacity to meet any spike in demand, should it arise. So, today, it makes far more sense for companies to bring unused capacity back online rather than to buy new equipment.

So, what would corporations do with a windfall tax cut that they didn’t need to invest in the US? Won’t they just invest it outside the US in order to keep expanding their global markets? There would be no increased revenues or jobs from investment at home, so why would they keep the windfall at home? That wouldn’t be smart, and those guys and their tax lawyers are pretty smart.

What corporations might do with increased after-tax income:

  • Buy back more of their own stock
  • Update their factories in Mexico, China or elsewhere around the world
  • Invest in companies working on artificial intelligence or robots with human-like dexterity. You know, something on the bleeding edge!

The corporates will ask the question: What do Americans need that they do not have? More self-driving cars?

American consumers simply do not earn enough money to purchase the products that are already available. Total household debt now exceeds the previous peak in the 3rd quarter of 2008. You know, the peak driven by the housing bubble and the accompanying refinancing of debt.

So if a corporation does come up with some product for which there is a genuine need, who will have the money to buy it? What products (or services) would Americans stop purchasing so that they could use their borrowed money to buy this new product?

And given that the tax cuts will not accrue to anyone who makes under $75k the way the GOP has designed their tax cuts, there won’t be any more money in the pockets of the middle class to add jobs and GDP growth here at home. Here is a chart from David Leonhardt in the Sunday NYT, showing what everyone who will gain from their discredited trickle down tax plan, once it is fully implemented:

Notice that it doesn’t go to the people who really need it.

The Republican’s belief in tax cuts and supply side economics is a cult religion. They just don’t care about evidence.

So, time to wake up! We have broken subways, broken bridges, and stagnant wages. Why not spend the money on infrastructure instead of giving it away in tax cuts to be used offshore?

That might actually do some good. This could be the final opportunity for the Senate (the House is a lost cause) to do the right thing and actually represent the interests of the middle class in the US. It is way past time for this 100-member body to set aside the petty complaints of their corporate benefactors and the rich, and offer something real to the ordinary tax-paying citizens who try to pay their bills and put a little aside for retirement.

Time to wake up Senators! We need you to escape your cognitive dissonance, and think about what you are doing. To help you wake up, here is U2 with “Stuck in a Moment” from their 2000 album, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”:

Takeaway Lyric:

You’ve got to get yourself together

You’ve got stuck in a moment

And now you can’t get out of it

Don’t say that later will be better

Now you’re stuck in a moment

And you can’t get out of it

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

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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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Saturday Soother – November 4, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Grand Tetons early morning – 2011 photo by Wrongo

Two short thoughts for your Saturday. First, hidden in the language of the GOP’s Tax Bill  is a something that would change the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the tax code that prohibits churches, faith communities, and other non-profits from outright endorsing political candidates:

…The provision is not a complete repeal of the Johnson Amendment. As written, it would only free up religious communities—not all non-profits—to endorse candidates and appears to prohibit churches from going out of their way to campaign for a candidate outside of their normal religious activities.

The GOP wants to erode the separation of church and state. Let’s see who, if anyone, in Congress is willing to fight for the Constitution.

Second, the Democrats had a grenade go off inside the DNC when an excerpt from Donna Brazile’s new book was published by Politico. She claims that the Clinton administration assumed control over the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in exchange for keeping it solvent, then funneled most of the funds raised into her campaign, leaving the states with very little to support down-ballot races.

The states kept less than half of 1 percent of the $82 million they had garnered from the Hillary fund-raisers the campaign was holding to support state-level candidates. That’s about $4.1 million.

When Howard Dean was chair of the DNC he instituted a 50-state policy, saying the DNC would maintain full time workers in each state, to contest seats up and down the ballot from the county, to state legislature to house and senate races.

When Obama won, Dean was out, and the 50-state policy was dismantled. After that, the DNC was reorganized to serve only national level elections. And Obama For America took its place as the funds-raising vehicle for the presidential re-election. And Hillary did much the same with the Hillary Victory Fund, but she went further, as Brazile reveals: The DNC would covertly back Hillary in the primaries.

And now, through these efforts, the Democrats have lost the White House, the Senate and the House, in addition to most state governments.

It’s hard to decide what’s worse, that the party is run by incompetents, or that it is just hopelessly corrupt.

Time for a hostile takeover of the Democratic Party.

On to the weekend. You obviously need to go to a happy place that doesn’t include continual assaults by our national media. So brew up a cup of London-based Union Hand-Roasted Coffee’s El Topacio Microlot, El Salvador, available online for £8/200g.

Now kick back someplace you can see the natural world outside, and listen to Peter Mulvey playing his instrumental, “Black Rabbit”. Mulvey is known for his guitar chops and songwriting. He got started by playing in the Boston metro. This short acoustic gem is executed with ease, and pure musicality:

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

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