UA-43475823-1

The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Biden’s Win and Trump’s Economic Stimulus

The Daily Escape:

This week’s Supermoon over Three Fingers, WA – March 2020 photo by Alpackie

Today we’ll talk superficially about two topics. First, a quick take on Tuesday’s Democratic primary, and second, about whatever it is Trump is cooking up with Republicans as an “economic stimulus” in this time of Coronavirus and stock market volatility.

Here’s Jameson Quinn with a pithy summary of the primary:

“Right now, the best-case scenario is that Joe Biden will be the next president of the USA; the worst-case is that Trump is the last one. That is to say, we will have a choice between a guy whose primary campaigns twice flamed out from self-inflicted errors and who, the day he takes office, will be the oldest president the country has ever had; and a narcissistic, mobbed-up reality television star whose platform is focused on his core base of racists, trolls, and racist trolls.”

But how do you really feel?

That said, Wrongo was always for Elizabeth Warren, but now, that door has closed. Wrongo like many others, overestimated the importance of competency and policy. Most people don’t read policy papers, and they knew that Biden had been Obama’s VP. That was enough to get them to vote for Biden.

People make their voting decisions based on things like personality, perceived connection to their tribe, perceived electability and an “X” factor, vague trust in a candidate’s judgment. Would Biden be a good president? Who really knows?

Moving on to Trump’s economic stimulus: It isn’t surprising that Trump promises some more corporate socialism and the stock market likes it. And it isn’t surprising that no one in the media notices that the Party of Obama Derangement Syndrome had zero concerns about debt/deficits once Orange became the new black.

But, rather than proposing tax cuts, good policy starts with identifying the problems:

  1. Sick people: They require costly medical care. Many can’t afford it, even if it’s available, and even if they have insurance.
  2. Unemployment: Unemployment will rise. Sick people without sick leave will lose their jobs. Businesses will have less revenue.
  3. Goods shortages: Much of our goods come from China, including medical supplies and drugs. Trade has already been disrupted, and it will get worse. Italy finds it needs thousands of ventilators, and China is supplying them.
  4. Childcare: Schools and daycare centers are closing, and working parents are in a jam. Worse, parents will be hospitalized with no care arranged for their kids.

Tax cuts won’t address these problems. Most sick people don’t have much income, so tax cuts won’t matter to them. Unemployed people won’t have income either. The idea that the government can wall off the economic impacts of a virus-caused recession is correct. Once the economic slowdown spreads, the right kinds of government programs could soften the blow.

Here’s Wrongo’s prescription for Trump and Congress:

  • No bailouts for any industry
  • Targeted financial help for hospitals and the health care sector
  • General financial relief paid directly to workers and families

America’s businesses and capitalists had a fantastic decade. Let them and their rich executives weather this economic downturn on their own.

Trump’s people floated the idea of a push back of the April 15 Tax Filing Deadline. This does nothing for people, and shows just how little the administration is prepared to do.

Trump’s suggestion of a payroll tax cut is also misplaced. It’s been tried in the past, including by Obama. But tax cuts are less effective than simply providing lump-sum payments to families below a certain income threshold.

Also, payroll taxes are the primary source of funding for Social Security and Medicare. So this opens the door to another GOP stealth attack on Social Security. Trump has already said he plans to cut Social Security if reelected.

Jason Furman, Obama’s head of the Council of Economic Advisers, proposed an immediate, one-time payment of $1,000 to every adult, plus $500 for every child. Such payments would help cover rent, food and other costs, without a large administrative burden of trying to determine who got sick, or who lost work due to the Coronavirus.

Furman’s proposal would add up to $350 billion. The right wing will say no financial stimuli for Joe Sixpack. Those things must be paid for.

But Trump thought it was fine to dig a $ trillion hole in the budget for an unnecessary tax cut during good economic times.

What we need now is urgent. It requires smart, humane, and energetic action.

Facebooklinkedinrss

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!

Facebooklinkedinrss

America Is OK With a Wealth Tax

The Daily Escape:

Navajo Trail, Bryce Canyon NP, UT – November 2019 photo by biochemistry_unicorn

Over the past year, progressives have made a wealth tax a central part of the policy discussions in the Democratic primary. Both Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have proposals to tax the wealth of billionaires to help pay for improvements to the social safety net and infrastructure.

Currently, the US mostly taxes individuals on the income earned from their jobs and investments. The wealth tax is different since it would tax assets like stocks, yachts, artworks, and vacation homes.

Critics of the wealth tax have made a variety of arguments against them. The most prominent that the US government couldn’t enforce them effectively. Consider this from Business Insider:

“Usually, progressives cast Europe as a model for the cradle-to-grave social benefits that nations like Norway provide because of steeper tax rates on richer citizens. But most…countries have ditched them [wealth taxes] over the last few decades.”

Twelve European countries had a wealth tax in 1990, but the number now stands at four: Spain, Switzerland, Norway, and Belgium, which just introduced a limited wealth tax of its own.

Emmanuel Saez, economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has analyzed the Warren and Sanders wealth tax proposals, says the European wealth taxes failed because governments created many exemptions that undercut their ability to draw revenue:

“The wealth taxes in Europe have failed by and large….they didn’t raise that much revenue because of big exemptions for asset classes….”

Others argue that the super-rich already donate big amounts to charity. One of Saez’s co-authors, Gabriel Zucman, says that the annual giving of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett equates to ~3%–4% of their wealth, while the other top 20 billionaires’ giving equals ~0.3% of their wealth. Like a really tiny wealth tax. Here’s his chart:

Annual charitable giving of the top 20 richest Americans: $8.7 billion, equaling just three tenths of one percent of their wealth. For the top 400 richest Americans, their taxes paid = 1.5% of their wealth, while their charitable giving = 0.4% of their wealth.

But, the average American paid taxes equal to 5.5% of their wealth, while their charitable giving = 0.3% of their wealth. Joe Six-pack gave the same amount of his assets to charity as did the top 20 billionaires.

If Warren’s 6% wealth tax was enforced on the top 20 richest Americans above, they would pay $60 billion to support the social safety net.

Moreover, despite the nay-saying by the rich, surveys show that Warren’s 2% tax is broadly popular:

(This was an online survey of 2,672 adults conducted by the polling firm SurveyMonkey from Nov. 4 to Nov. 11)

The survey by the NYT and Survey Monkey shows that 75% of Democrats and more than half of Republicans say they approve of the idea of a 2% tax on wealth above $50 million. The proposal receives majority support among every major racial, educational and income group.

The majority of college-educated Republican men disapproved, with only 41.5% approving of it.

The NYT reports that the proposed wealth tax is even more popular than the Trump tax-cut enacted in 2017. Only 45% of Americans said the tax cut was a good move:

“The movement against the Trump tax cuts since then has been powered, oddly enough, by Republicans. They largely still back the law — by 76% over all, compared with 20% of Democrats — but that support has dropped six percentage points since April.”

The shift on the tax cut is highest among high-earning Republicans: Americans earning more than $150,000 a year are far more likely to favor a tax increase on the very wealthy than the Trump tax cuts.

America’s tax code is designed to allow massive fortunes to grow ever larger. Wealth is concentrating in a tiny segment of the population, as the middle class shrinks.

We see that even the most high-minded billionaires can’t even give money away faster than their piles of dough are growing. And when Democrats like Warren and Sanders suggest a way towards tax reform, the GOP and the conservative think-tanks condemn them as socialists who want to punish success.

Most Americans are fed up with a government and an economy that overwhelmingly benefit corporations and the rich at the expense of everyone else. A wealth tax can work if Congress doesn’t get rolled by lobbyists that demand loopholes for their clients.

Wrongo will have no trouble backing a candidate who supports a wealth tax. But, increasing the taxes on corporations and a financial transactions tax should come first.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Will Dems Counter the GOP’s Plan to Cut Social Security?

The Daily Escape:

Fall in Paradise Valley, Yellowstone NP – photo by Annie Griffiths

The mid-terms are coming, and we are having difficulty focusing on some important issues, because America has a short attention span, and we’ve been Kavanaugh ‘ed and Khashoggi ‘ed so much lately.

Two issues that are linked are the amazing deficit caused by the Trump tax cuts, and the moves being plotted by Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and others to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Let’s start with tax revenues. It was clear to critics that the 2017 GOP tax cut was going to quickly increase the budget deficit and add $ trillions of the national debt, and here it is:

The federal deficit grew by nearly $800 billion over the first fiscal year of Trump’s presidency, during which the Republican Congress passed a tax cut targeted mostly to corporations and the wealthy, which is projected to add more than $1 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years.

And it didn’t take long for Republicans to insist that the deficits were actually caused by Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, not their tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. From Vox:

Fresh off the news that the deficit is increasing under President Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Bloomberg News that Congress should target Social Security and Medicare for cuts to address the growing federal debt.

The White House and GOP leaders promised America that the tax cuts would pay for themselves, but they haven’t. The growing federal deficit hasn’t caused Republican leaders to reconsider their tax policy. Instead, they argue that entitlement reform — Republican-speak for cuts to social safety net programs — is what’s really needed to address the federal deficit. From McConnell’s interview with Bloomberg this week:

It’s disappointing, but it’s not a Republican problem….It’s a bipartisan problem: unwillingness to address the real drivers of the debt by doing anything to adjust those programs to the demographics of America in the future.

Republicans have opposed Social Security and Medicare since they were created. But because these programs enjoy overwhelming support from the American people, they would not normally talk about their plans for benefit cuts three weeks before an election.

But, they are doing just that.

This is a real issue, since those programs make up a large share of federal spending: Medicare was 15% of the federal budget in 2017, and it’s projected to grow to 18% by 2028. Social Security is a bigger chunk of the budget (24% in 2016), and our aging population will put a greater strain on the program. Here is the budget breakdown:

Democrats want to expand, not cut these programs. Republicans may see their last, best chance to cut them slipping away with the mid-terms. They seem determined not to let that happen, so this will be a big issue in the lame duck sessions. The GOP will use the cost of their tax giveaways as the excuse to do what they have wanted to do to social programs all along.

If the GOP is talking like this before the mid-terms, imagine the carnage if they keep control of both Houses of Congress!

People who want to defend Social Security and Medicare better work hard to get out the vote in November. And the latest news about the House isn’t encouraging. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball reports that Democrats aren’t there yet:

A race-by-race analysis of Democratic House targets shows the party is close to winning the majority, but they do not have it put away, in our judgment, with Election Day less than three weeks away.

Barring a big, positive late change in the political environment in favor of Republicans, the bare minimum for Democratic House gains is in the mid-to-high teens. The needed 23-seat net gain is not that far beyond that and there are many different paths Democrats can take to achieve it.

He says Dems can count on 18, but need 23…

Assuming that the Dems won’t go along with the GOP’s planned social spending cuts, Republicans will try to blame Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and the Democrats, assuming their cuts to social programs fail.

Republicans will say “Democrats plan to raise taxes on tens of millions of middle-class Americans” to cut the deficit, and that’s true. But, it would be just a part of the package of fiscal moves to cut the deficit, with the primary focus on clawing back some of the massive Republican corporate tax cuts.

Democrats need to talk this up in the next three weeks to counter the GOP’s clearly articulated game plan.

Facebooklinkedinrss