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Saturday, December 16, 2017


Not the better half

by Tom Sullivan

TurboTax headquarters in San Diego, CA.

TurboTax may be working some late nights. Having resolved differences between the House and Senate versions of its tax bill, the GOP released its final version of the tax bill Friday and hopes to vote on it early next week. Vox has the full text here.

To no one's surprise, Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) came aboard in support of the legislation after garnering some face-saving changes and earned media. Rubio got an increase to the child tax credit. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell now appears to have the votes for Senate passage.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act marks the largest reduction in corporate taxes in U.S. history, dropping the rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, one percent lower still than either of the versions the House and Senate sent to conference committee. The top personal tax rate also emerges from committee lower than either of the versions, a gift to the wealthiest taxpayers to go with a temporary doubling of the estate tax exemption for married couples to $22 million. If white conservatives worry their ranks will be overwhelmed by poorer immigrants, the wealthiest will at least have twice the chance of expanding theirs through their heirs.

The bill also scraps the personal exemption while almost doubling the standard deduction. The Washington Post offers a detailed rundown of the changes.

Detailed analysis of the impacts are not out yet. The final bill is too new. But Tara Golshan observes at Vox:

All in all, the bill is a far cry from the simplified tax code that Republicans have long been promising, but it is a substantial reshaping of the nation’s tax base. Republicans are adamant that cutting corporate taxes will in turn increase investments and wages in the United States and lead to unprecedented economic growth — despite analyses that indicate otherwise.
Michael Bloomberg calls the bill "a trillion-dollar blunder," explaining, "CEOs aren't waiting on a tax cut to 'jump-start the economy' -- a favorite phrase of politicians who have never run a company -- or to hand out raises. It's pure fantasy to think that the tax bill will lead to significantly higher wages and growth, as Republicans have promised."

Todd Carmichael, CEO of La Colombe described it last night on MSNBC's "The Beat" as a "dividend to the stockholders of the United States of America." In the same segment, venture capitalist Nick Hanauer reinforced that analysis, describing the Republican Party as "a tribe run by their very wealthy donors."

It is yet another demonstration of whom the GOP and the economy serves. But a two-week journey into "the dark side of the American Dream" gave Philip Alston, an international law scholar and human rights advocate at the New York University School of Law, insight into just how unequal all men are in an America that tells itself otherwise.

The Guardian reported on Alston's travels:
Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, has completed a two-week official tour of the US by releasing an excoriating attack on the direction of the nation. Not only does he warn that the tax bill currently being rushed through Congress will hugely increase already large disparities between rich and poor, he accuses Trump and his party of consciously distorting the shape of American society in a “bid to become the most unequal society in the world”.

“American exceptionalism was a constant theme in my conversations,” he writes. “But instead of realizing its founders’ admirable commitments, today’s United States has proved itself to be exceptional in far more problematic ways that are shockingly at odds with its immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights. As a result, contrasts between private wealth and public squalor abound.”
Alaton told Kelly McEvers of NPR's"All Things Considered" he was struck by the caricatured narratives repeated by politicians and officials to explain away systemic inequality:
ALSTON: So the rich are industrious, entrepreneurial, patriotic and the drivers of economic success. The poor, on the other hand, are wasters, losers and scammers. So as a result, money spent on welfare is money down the drain. Money devoted to the rich is a sound investment. The reality is that the United States now has probably the lowest degree of social mobility among all the rich countries. And if you are born poor, guess where you're going to end up - poor.
The rich take care of their own. The riffraff can keep themselves from drowning.
Rose: Half the people on this ship are going to die.

Cal Hockley: Not the better half.
What Alston heard is the patter used to peddle trickle-down elixir from the back of wagons on America's main streets since the Reagan years. But there is more to the story than the Owner class appropriating government of the people to service themselves. There is a political game at work as well. The tax cuts are prelude to another round of cuts to the social safety net for the so-called "wasters, losers and scammers." It is not enough to have most of the cookies. Fewer for others widens the point spread and consolidates power for those who have it.

Michael Tomasky provides as concise a sketch as any of the Republican formula:
1. Pass massive tax cuts for the top 1 percent.

2. Run up the deficit.

3. A year or two later go, “Oh my God, look at the deficit! This proves that spending is just out of control!”

4. Start taking the axe to entitlement programs and the domestic discretionary budget.
But one is tempted to assume this is the game on the national scale only. It is not. State preemption laws aimed at preventing bluish cities from implementing progressive policies often go hand-in-hand with policies aimed at weakening cities economically, leaving city leaders with no choice but to raise taxes and/or cut services (and anger voters). A couple of cycles later, Republicans will run candidates who blame cities’ financial woes on “mismanagement and waste” by Democrats, and count on voters to forget by then who precipitated the crisis in the first place.

Just like deficits run up at the national level. It is a deliberate strategy.

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