As the rest of us are recovering from the outrageous Senate healthcare bill released this week, Trump and the Republican Party are having closed door meetings to shape their “reforms” to the Federal tax system. Get ready for a resurgence of rhetoric about how enriching the rich will generate a surge in economic activity that will raise all boats. There will be lots of talk about “pro-growth tax reforms”. This is the return of 1980s trickle-down economics. The basic notion is that if you put more money in the pockets of the rich and corporations they will invest in creating new businesses and jobs. Thus the money trickles down to the bottom. Trump and his Republican Party allies have already claimed that this will increase the growth rate of the economy from its recent typical of 1.5% to 2% annual growth to over 3%. The difference of this one percent has enormous implications. At 2% growth the economy doubles in 36 years. At 3% growth it doubles in only 24 years.
Trickle-Down – The Reality
BUT, no economist, banker, or corporate chieftain not on the payroll of Trump and the Republicans believes this will happen. Leaving aside all sorts of analysis about demographics (aging population), technology, and global competition, history and current events provides a fairly comprehensive rebuke to these trickle down cover stories for the Republican give backs to the rich and corporations. Trickle-down economics was invented in the early 1980’s to explain the wisdom of Ronald Reagan’s tax “reforms”. Much space was taken up with displays of Prof. Arthur Laffer’s demand curves that were passed off as proof from the academy that enriching the rich and corporations would unleash a new wave of economic activity. Nothing like that happened in the 1980s. Nothing like that happened in the first decade of this century after Bush II’s big tax cuts. And most recently in Kansas, the Republican dominated State legislature had to override the governor’s veto of tax increases after a 5 year experiment there with trickle-down drove the state nearly to bankruptcy.
Nevertheless, get ready for another round of bull shit Republican propaganda about “pro-growth tax policies”, unleashing the over-regulated, over-taxed job creators, and a great surge in economic growth. The forces of free-market capitalism just need to be freed from the shackles of government. You will here all of this and more. The media will continue to do its job of repeating all of this. You need to be clear that the vicious Republican Party is at work for their masters among the rich and corporations. There job is making sure that the 40 year stagnation in incomes for the 80% will not change course and the flood of wealth will continue to those at the top.
The title of this short book, only 130 pages, Building the New American Economy: smart, fair, & sustainable by Jeffrey D. Sachs with a foreword by Bernie Sanders (Columbia University Press, 2017) is unfortunately misleading. There is much here about the new economy. The misleading part is that there is very little about its construction, the building of the new economy.
Sachs covers many important issues in a thorough, efficient fashion. If you need a primer or a tune up about the economy this is a good place to start. These include: investment in our society, infrastructure, Federal budget, income inequality, healthcare, energy, military and the empire (not his phrase), and innovation. If you have been reading my postings over the last 5 or so years much of this will seem a bit deja vu.
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As the presidential campaign of 2016 fades away and the Trump Era begins, we find a national scene without any real discussion of the facts of jobs and unemployment and what the future might bring. Trump and others talk about bringing manufacturing back to the US. No plan, plausible or otherwise, has ever been mentioned for how to accomplish this. The Democrat are hardly better. Much has been made and continues to be made of the role various trade agreements have had in the loss of manufacturing jobs. Even Bernie Sanders can do no better than talking about creating millions of good paying jobs through a national infrastructure program. It is laudable to fix the infrastructure that has become third world, but that is not a long-term jobs strategy.
There are structural changes in the capitalist economy that must be understood and accepted as fact. Lets begin with a few examples. US steel production, one of those lost American industries, is now as high as it was at the beginning of the 1960s.
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May Day 2013 brought a piece in the NY Times by Thomas Friedman, “It’s a 401(k) World” that points out the enormous changes in employment, technology, personal access to information and personal responsibility for larger swaths of life. Work changed from a steady job as a regular feature of life to a series of part-time or short term engagements with corporations who view labor as a throw away element.
Reading this op ed leaves one with the notion that these changes have arisen through some immutable forces of nature.
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It is fairly widely known that income and wealth inequality in the US is as high or higher than at any time except perhaps the Robber Baron period at the end of the 19th century. Lots of articles and books explain how this has come about over the last 30 years. In a recent NYTimes Magazine article, “The Purpose of Spectacular Wealth, According to a Spectacularly Wealthy Guy” by Adam Davidson, we are even offered an affirmative defense of this by a buddy of Mitt Romney from Bain Capital Edward Conrad.
Conrad… “aggressively argues that the enormous and growing income inequality in the United States is not a sign that the system is rigged. On the contrary, Conrad writes, it is a sign that our economy is working. And if we had a little more of it, then everyone, particularly the 99 percent, would be better off.”
But, leaving aside the obvious disconnect between any rational measure of value add by the wealthy and their incomes and holdings, does economic inequality really matter? Is it just that those of us in the not wealthy class, now branded The 99%, are jealous of all the toys of the wealthy? Their four or five houses, countless cars, airplanes, and all the rest?
Are their some measurable consequences to economic inequality?
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The recent scene of Jon Huntsman, Republican candidate for President, stating that he believed in evolution surrounding this with the parenthetical comment, “call me crazy”, sets out in stark relief how idiotic our politics and body politic are at this moment. Every other Republican running for President has disavowed evolution. Even the middling muddler from Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, could not bring himself to state a positive position on this bit of science.
A 2009 Gallup poll showed that only 36% of Americans believed in Darwinism. Here we are more than 70 years after the Scopes trial and Americans continue to be enormously ignorant of the science and technology that underlies much of our day to day lives. They show no increased interest in the amazing findings of research in so many fields.
This denial of fact-based thinking is tied up with the persistence of religions in their many guises. Even after a major global financial calamity that continues to reveal itself some four years into the Great Recession, most people persist in believing the endless claims of the miracles of the marketplace. History is replete with countless examples of the instability of markets. Even now, living through yet another real life example of the instability of markets, we have politicians surrounded by the hackdom of economists and Wall St financiers, continuing to feed market doggerels to the population still anxious to believe that we just need to be purer in our belief and application of market dogmas to achieve success.
As disturbing as the Republicans not believing in evolution, this matters fairly little in the short run. Their, and, to be fair, most Democrats and virtually the entire corporatist cabal in business and the academy, religious beliefs in markets is an active danger to our economy and our future lives.
I wish I could close with some path out of this miasma of received knowledge. But we seem not to have a political or social force in sight to hitch our increasingly decrepit lives to.