“Bread and circuses” used to be a fairly common reference to the Roman government’s practice of distracting the masses by providing food (bread) and circuses (contests between lions and Christians, etc.) in order to keep them occupied. The term–used far less frequently these days– is a reference to superficial perks used to appease popular passions, a tactic to generate public approval through diversion and distraction.
I’ve been thinking about that tactic in connection with the GOP’s “middle class tax cut.” (I love GOP titles–remember George W. Bush’s “Clear Skies” moniker for a bill permitting more pollution? This time it’s a “middle class tax cut” for a measure that is anything but.) My specific question goes beyond the dishonesty of the bill’s title, however: I wonder whether the lower withholding requirements, which will initially allow workers to take home a somewhat larger portion of their paychecks, will be enough to distract Americans from the other, less pleasant and less immediate consequences of that bill.
Will it obscure the fact that tax “reform” will further enrich the already wealthy without stemming the job losses that are accelerating as companies increasingly automate, and as retailing faces enormous challenges? After all, this tax “reform” was hyped as a (trickle-down) measure that would incentivize those “job creators” to do their thing–to create jobs and raise the pay of their workers.
How’s that working out so far?
Harley-Davidson just closed a plant in Kansas City, laying off 800 workers. Managers blamed both a provision of the tax bill and Trump’s decision to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Passage of the tax bill didn’t affect or delay the decision of Toys-R-Us to close 180 stores–nor the closing of 63 Sears locations. Kmart has closed 45 stores; Macy’s has closed 68. Walmart made a big deal out of its response to passage of the tax bill, announcing $1000 bonuses (the company made less noise about the fact that only employees who’d been with the company for 20 years would actually get a thousand dollars), and immediately followed up that PR blitz by closing 63 of its Sam’s Club stores and throwing thousands of people out of work. (Given Walmart’s turnover rate, I’d guess there weren’t a lot of 20-year veterans getting the full bonus amount, either.)
Industry publications are filled with layoff announcements: Pfizer announced it will eliminate 300 research jobs in New England; another 4,000 are expected to lose their jobs with AT&T. Kimberly-Clark is using its tax windfall to reward shareholders, while laying off between 5,000 and 5,500 workers. Comcast said the $1,000 bonus it splashed across the news would serve as severance for 500 terminated employees. Microsoft, Coca-Cola and a host of lesser-known brands have also fired hundreds of workers.
The tax cut didn’t change any of these decisions, and other policies of the Trump Administration are only accelerating the job losses.
Those of us in Indiana know that Carrier has now completed its move to Mexico, despite Trump’s much-hyped “intervention.”
Meanwhile, the President’s love affair with coal led him to impose stiff tariffs on solar panels–a move that will not only depress sales and increase prices for environmentally-conscious consumers, but will cost a predicted 23,000 workers their jobs. Meanwhile, although coal is not coming back, the tariffs will slow the replacement of fossil fuels with clean energy–further enriching the Koch brothers, who demonstrated their gratitude to Paul Ryan for passage of tax “reform” by giving him $500,000 a mere two weeks after the bill was signed. (Estimates are it will save them a cool billion a year, so they could afford a paltry half-million to their House puppet. Quid Pro Quo much?)
American workers aren’t even getting bread and circuses–unless you count the circus that is Washington, D.C. And that one isn’t entertaining; it’s terrifying.