Tag Archives: Paul Krugman

Those Tax Cuts: Take Two

Reactions to the Trump/GOP tax bill have mostly focused on the domestic consequences of that fiscal abomination: the steeply rising deficits and national debt; the “no show”  economic boost; the unconscionable further enrichment of the already obscenely rich; and Mitch McConnell’s stated intent to address that newly massive national debt by cutting programs that benefit the poor and elderly, notably Medicare and Social Security.

What hasn’t been widely reported is what Paul Krugman calls “foreign aid.”

Donald Trump often complains that the media don’t give him credit for his achievements. And I can think of at least one case where that’s true. As far I can tell, almost nobody is reporting that he has presided over a huge — but hidden — increase in foreign aid, the money America gives to foreigners. In fact, the hidden Trump program, currently running at around $40 billion a year, is probably the biggest giveaway to other nations since the Marshall Plan.

Unfortunately, the aid isn’t going either to poor countries or to America’s allies. Instead, it’s going to wealthy foreign investors.

The 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act–which, as Krugman reminds us, is the only major legislation Trump can claim thus far– cut taxes on corporations. Significantly. As credible economists predicted, it led to a drastic reduction in tax revenues. Krugman pegs the shortfall at $140 billion just the past year.

Supporters of the bill claimed that the benefits would be passed on to workers in the form of higher wages, and they made a big deal over a flurry of corporate bonus announcements in early 2018. But those bonuses weren’t actually very big, and they didn’t continue.

In fact, at this point it’s clear that the bonus surge, such as it was, was all about tax avoidance: By moving up payments they were going to make anyway, corporations got to deduct the expense at the old, higher tax rate. Now that this option has expired, bonuses have dropped back to their normal level, or even a bit lower.

Job creation? Investments in the business? Nah.

The benefits of the tax cut have gone almost entirely to corporate shareholders, in the form of increased dividends and capital gains from corporations using their windfall to buy back their own stocks.

And a big share of these gains to shareholders has gone to foreigners.

Over all, foreigners own about 35 percent of the equity in corporations subject to U.S. taxes. And as a result, foreign investors have received around 35 percent of the benefitsof the tax cut. As I said, that’s more than $40 billion a year.

Krugman compares Trump’s gift to foreign investors with the amounts we expend on foreign aid.

In 2017, the U.S. spent $51 billion on “international affairs,” but much of that was either the cost of operating embassies or military assistance. The Trump tax break for overseas investors is considerably bigger than the total amount we spend on foreign aid proper.

Now, the U.S. economy is almost inconceivably huge, producing more than $20 trillion worth of goods and services every year. We’re also a country that investors trust to honor its debts, so the tax cut, irresponsible as it is, isn’t causing any immediate fiscal stress.

So Trump’s giveaway to foreign investors isn’t going to make or break us, although it’s probably enough to ensure that the tax cut will be, over all, a net drain on economic growth: Even if the tax cut has some positive effect on the total income generated here (which is doubtful), this will probably be more than offset by the increased share of that income accruing to foreigners rather than U.S. citizens.

Still, even in America, $40 billion here, $40 billion there, and eventually you’re talking about real money. Furthermore, it does seem worth pointing out that even as Trump boasts about taking money away from foreigners, his actual policies are doing exactly the opposite.

I seriously doubt that Trump understands any of this. After all, it’s abundantly clear that he hasn’t the foggiest notion how tariffs work (or don’t). Or how government works, for that matter.

We shouldn’t be shocked to discover that the President is an economic ignoramus.

The Great Gatsby Curve

There’s nothing like being lectured about work by a “princess.”

Recently, Ivanka Trump responded to the introduction of the Green New Deal’s provision for a government jobs guarantee with a dismissive remark to the effect that Americans prefer to work for what they get, and want to live in a country with the potential for social mobility.

Paul Krugman was on the case.

O.K., this was world-class lack of self-awareness: It doesn’t get much better than being lectured on self-reliance by an heiress whose business strategy involves trading on her father’s name. But let’s go beyond the personal here. We know a lot about upward mobility in different countries, and the facts are not what Republicans want to hear.

The key observation, based on a growing body of research, is that when it comes to upward social mobility, the U.S. is truly exceptional — that is, it performs exceptionally badly. Americans whose parents have low incomes are more likely to have low incomes themselves, and less likely to make it into the middle or upper class, than their counterparts in other advanced countries. And those who are born affluent are, correspondingly, more likely to keep their status.

As Krugman notes, Americans like to believe that we “made it on our own,” that we “pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps” (a phrase that tends to infuriate me, since it entirely ignores the fact that large portions of the American public don’t have anything that could remotely be considered “bootstraps.”)

Then he provides the data.

Among advanced countries, there is a strong negative correlation between inequality and mobility, sometimes referred to as the “Great Gatsby curve.” This makes sense. After all, huge disparities in parents’ income tend to translate into large disparities in children’s opportunities.

And people do, by the way, seem to understand this point. Many Americans don’t realize how unequal our society really is; when given facts about income inequality, they become more likely to believe that coming from a wealthy family plays a big role in personal success.

I had never run across the “Great Gatsby curve,” but it makes sense. Everyone who raises children implicitly understands that those children’s prospects are tied to the quality of the education we provide for them, very much including the enrichment that comes with their extra-curricular experiences. That’s why homes in districts with good schools sell at a premium, why parents shell out eye-popping amounts for summer camps, music lessons and sports equipment.

The “princess” may be unaware that large numbers of Americans simply cannot afford those things–and when they can’t, social mobility suffers accordingly.

Back to the “potential for upward mobility”: Where do people from poor or modest backgrounds have the best chance of getting ahead? The answer is that Scandinavia leads the rankings, although Canada also does well. And here’s the thing: The Nordic countries don’t just have low inequality, they also have much bigger governments, much more extensive social safety nets, than we do. In other words, they have what Republicans denounce as “socialism” (it really isn’t, but never mind).

To put it in terms even a clueless Princess might understand, a generous social safety net provides the bootstraps that allow people to pull themselves up.

 

About Those Angry White Guys…

Like many women, I am still fuming over the Kavanaugh hearing. Not only was a man elevated to the Court who clearly has no business being there–for multiple reasons, not simply the very credible accusations of sexual assault–but women were dismissed, diminished and disregarded in ways that still infuriate me.

After the hearing, I posted about the extreme anger that permeates contemporary political life, and what I see as the reasons for that anger. It probably isn’t surprising that I see some  as righteous, and some as considerably less so. Those displaying the latter type, I wrote,

are primarily White Christians (disproportionately but not exclusively male) who have a well-founded fear that they soon will be robbed of their cultural dominance and privilege. They are reacting with fury to culture change and the increasing claims to a place at the civic table by LGBTQ, black and brown people, and women. Robert Jones has documented their resentment and rage in his recent book, The End of White Christian America.

It wasn’t just an analysis from one feminist blogger. A few days ago, Paul Krugman’s column made a similar point.

When Matt Damon did his Brett Kavanaugh imitationon “Saturday Night Live,” you could tell that he nailed it before he said a word. It was all about the face — that sneering, rage-filled scowl. Kavanaugh didn’t sound like a judge at his Senate hearing last week, let alone a potential Supreme Court justice; he didn’t even manage to look like one.

But then again, Lindsey Graham, who went through the hearing with pretty much the same expressionon his face, didn’t look much like a senator, either.

There have been many studies of the forces driving Trump support, and in particular the rage that is so pervasive a feature of the MAGA movement. What Thursday’s hearing drove home, however, was that white male rage isn’t restricted to blue-collar guys in diners. It’s also present among people who’ve done very well in life’s lottery, whom you would normally consider very much part of the elite.

Krugman referenced the considerable body of research debunking the notion–advanced by good-hearted albeit naive liberals– that Trump supporters were economically insecure.

What distinguished Trump voters was, instead, racial resentment. Furthermore, this resentment was and is driven not by actual economic losses at the hands of minority groups, but by fear of losing status in a changing country, one in which the privilege of being a white man isn’t what it used to be.

That resentment isn’t confined to people who are economically insecure. It isn’t even more prevalent among them.

And this sort of high-end resentment, the anger of highly privileged people who nonetheless feel that they aren’t privileged enough or that their privileges might be eroded by social change, suffuses the modern conservative movement.

As Krugman points out, that “high end resentment” positively oozes out of Trump. And Kavanaugh is cut from the same cloth.

As a lot of reporting shows, the angry face Kavanaugh presented to the world last week wasn’t something new, brought on by the charges of past abuse. Classmates from his Yale days describe him as a belligerent heavy drinker even then. His memo to Ken Starr as he helped harass Bill Clinton — in which he declared that “it is our job to make his pattern of revolting behavior clear” — shows rage as well as cynicism.

And Kavanaugh, like Trump, is still in the habit of embellishing his academic record after all these years, declaring that he got into Yale despite having “no connections.” In fact, he was a legacy student whose grandfather went there.

Adding insult to perceived injury,

An increasingly diverse society no longer accepts the God-given right of white males from the right families to run things, and a society with many empowered, educated women is finally rejecting the droit de seigneur once granted to powerful men.

And nothing makes a man accustomed to privilege angrier than the prospect of losing some of that privilege, especially if it comes with the suggestion that people like him are subject to the same rules as the rest of us.

Exactly.

Nancy, Hillary And The Year Of The Woman

According to the media, this is “the year of the woman.”

More women are running for public office than ever before. The dramatic increase in political activism following the election began with Women’s Marches that turned out truly astonishing numbers of people, and political scientists who have studied the ongoing Resistance report that middle-aged suburban women are providing its backbone.

Many of these reports make it seem as if the dearth of female presence in Congress and Statehouses around the country is due to women’s previous lack of interest in running for office. Then America elected a male chauvinist pig as President, that election roused the sleeping maiden(s), and the surge in their political participation is the result.

If you accept that explanation, I have some swampland in Florida to sell you…

I’m not a fan of people who whine about victimization, but really, it takes a certain kind of obtuseness not to recognize the differences in the way political men and women are perceived and treated– the extra hurdles women candidates face, and the vicious demonization of those few who rise to positions of power.

Paul Krugman recently considered the case of Nancy Pelosi. He began by looking at the issues being raised by Republican Congressional candidates, noting that they weren’t running on the unpopular tax bill or even more unpopular trade war.

Instead, Republicans’ attack ads have increasingly focused on one of their usual boogeymen — or, rather, a boogeywoman: Nancy Pelosi, the former and possibly future speaker of the House.

So this seems like a good time to remind everyone that Pelosi is by far the greatest speaker of modern times and surely ranks among the most impressive people ever to hold that position. And it’s interesting to ask why she gets so little credit with the news media, and hence with the general public, for her accomplishments.

Krugman goes through a list of those accomplishments, which compare favorably to past Speakers we consider great (and which absolutely tower over the performance of Paul Ryan). Krugman notes that, compared with more modern House speakers–Gingrich, Hastert, Boehner, Ryan– Pelosi is a giant among dwarfs. But you’d never know that from her media coverage.

It’s quite a record. Oh, and whenever you hear Republicans claim that Pelosi is some kind of wild-eyed leftist, ask yourself, what’s so radical about protecting retirement income, expanding health care and reining in runaway bankers?

It’s probably also worth noting that Pelosi has been untouched by allegations of personal scandal, which is amazing given the right’s ability to manufacture such allegations out of thin air.

So why is Pelosi always portrayed as “divisive.” Why is she the preferred target of GOP attacks?

I mean, it’s true that she’s a political partisan — but no more so than any of the Republicans who preceded and followed her. Her policy stances are far less at odds with public opinion than, say, Ryan’s attempts to privatize Medicare and slash its funding. So what makes her “divisive”? The fact that Republicans keep attacking her? That would happen to any Democrat.

Or maybe it’s just the fact that she’s a woman — a woman who happens to have been far better at her job than any man in recent memory.

Ya’ think?

Hillary Clinton has been demonized for thirty years. It is certainly fair game to fault her campaign for miscalculations, or to recognize that she isn’t as charismatic as her husband. It’s fair to disagree with policy stances she’s taken. But she has performed admirably in every government position she’s held, and despite being constantly investigated, has never been found to have broken any law. Male officeholders routinely exhibit the behaviors for which she is excoriated, and almost never excite the same animosity.

Evidently, “uppity” women like Nancy and Hillary offend a lot of people’s notions of “proper womanhood.”

America has a lot at stake in November’s midterms. If–as I hope–there is a Democratic “wave,” a lot of Democratic women will be swept in with it. Along with all the other tasks facing them, they will need to join Elizabeth Warren, and persist— continuing the maddeningly slow process of culture change, normalizing the participation of women in government, and refusing to be stereotyped, demeaned and dismissed.

I hope it will prove to be the year of the woman. But we’re not there yet.

 

 

Telling It Like It REALLY Is

Paul Krugman, who never shies away from telling it like it really is, has summed up the “conservatism” of today’s GOP in the first paragraphs of a recent column:

News item #1: The Trump administration is taking thousands of children away from their parents, and putting them in cages.

News item #2: House Republicans have released a budget plan that would follow up last year’s big tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy with huge funding cuts for Medicare and Medicaid.

If you think these items are unrelated, you’ve missed the whole story of modern American politics. Conservatism – the actually existing conservative movement, as opposed to the philosophical stance whose constituency is maybe five pundits on major op-ed pages — is all about a coalition between racists and plutocrats. It’s about people who want to do (2) empowering people who want to do (1), and vice versa.

For a long time–especially when I was still a Republican–I was sure that the two wings of the GOP were headed for a split. The genuine fiscal conservatives I knew–people who defined fiscal conservatism as economic prudence and “pay as you go,” not as favoring the wealthy at the expense of the poor–were as appalled as I was by the hypocritical piety of the self-identified “Christian” wing, which even then was willing to turn a blind eye to very unChristian behavior so long as it cemented their privileged status and their right to impose their beliefs on everyone else.

I utterly failed to realize what Krugman points out: once you separate genuine fiscal conservatives from apologists for the greedy, and once you rip off the false facade of “policy differences” from the racists, the two wings actually complement each other.  Genuine fiscal conservatives departed the GOP some time ago; Trumpism has removed the facade from racism.

Until Trump, the ugliness of this deal was cloaked in euphemisms. As Lee Atwater famously put it,

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.

But the reality was always there. The conservative economic agenda has never been popular, and it is objectively against the interests of working class voters, whatever their race. In fact, whites without a college degree are the biggest beneficiaries of the social safety net. Nonetheless, these voters supported the GOP because it spoke to their racial animosity.

For a while, what Krugman calls “this bait-and-switch” worked; racism was used to motivate the base, but once elections were over, it was mostly shoved back in the closet. As he notes, however, that tactic was ultimately unsustainable. “Sooner or later the people who voted for white dominance at their own economic expense were going to find a champion who would deliver on their side of the bargain.”

Now, many in the plutocrat wing of the GOP seem to be genuinely dismayed by where this is going. They aren’t themselves racists, or at least they aren’t crude racists. But so far they’ve been unwilling to go beyond hand-wringing. Remember, just two Republican senators could stop all of this by saying that they’ll refuse to support Trump judicial appointments and legislation until the cruelty stops; they could bring all the evil to a dead halt by threatening to caucus with Democrats. But not one has stepped forward – because taking such a step would endanger conservative economic policies, and those are evidently more important than human rights.

When members of the “plutocratic wing” decry child separation at the nation’s border, when they join the rest of us by protesting that “this isn’t who we are,” it’s hard to argue with Krugman’s response:

It is who you are: you made a deal with the devil, empowering racism and cruelty so you could get deregulation and tax cuts. Now the devil is having his due, and you must share the blame.

I was wrong to see the two wings of the Republican Party as incompatible. They’re locked into their very own Faustian bargain, and unless and until American voters demand payment, they will both continue getting the benefit of that bargain.