After a string of stinging legislative failures, President Trump and the herd of cats called the Congressional Republicans are trying to run tax reform up the flag pole. To say that there is much at stake is to wildly understate the importance of tax reform to the respective legacies (such as they current stand) of Trump and the GOP-dominated 115th Congress. It’s late fall, and it’s nut-cutting time for those crazy DC squirrels.
Did you catch this press conference of White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders—she who replaced the beleaguered Spicey—explaining President Trump’s plan for tax reform? If not, take a few minutes to watch it before proceeding, because I’m not going to repeat the details. Sanders reads aloud an anecdotal story that will be the basis for much of what follows—a metaphor involving 10 members of the press who regularly get together to drink beer at a bar.
Let’s assume, for the moment, that Sanders’ metaphor explaining the range of federal tax burdens on Americans isn’t a large, steaming pile of bullpucky. That how our federal tax system works—simple as that. Three of the poorest bar-hound reporters don’t pay for any of the beer they drink, and a couple of the wealthiest pay an inordinately large amount of the tab.
(It really does beg the question: Why doesn’t Trump just release his tax returns? If it’s that simple, wouldn’t billionaire Trump want to show us precisely how badly he’s being screwed? But I digress.)
The United States remains the wealthiest country on the planet. Some of you Devil’s advocates will argue against this, but whatever. Forbes and Business Insider say we’re still Numero Uno, and I’m going with that. In the parlance of we Northern Californians, America has hella wealth.
What Ms. Sanders doesn’t mention is that since the advent of the Reagan Revolution, beer drinkers #9 and #10 have cornered more than 50% of our nation’s wealth, and their share of our nation’s wealth continues to grow. Meanwhile, the shares of wealth of beer drinkers #1 through #7—the poor, working class, and by far most of the middle class—have long been on the decline. The middle class is shrinking in both size and share of the nation’s wealth—prior to the advent of the Reagan Revolution, it held the nation’s largest share wealth. The upper middle class—beer drinker #8—is more-or-less holding its own.
Oh, and just wait for the Congressional Budget Office’s scorecard—if Trump’s plan passes, deficits are going to explode. We’ve been down this road twice, once with Reagan’s tax cuts, and once with Bush II’s tax cuts. If there is a more thoroughly disproved academic theory than supply-side economics, it’s only Lamarckian genetics, and not by much. Balancing the budget via tax cuts—Reagan’s prediction that he loved to illustrate with Laffer curves—is so thoroughly disproved that early in Bush II’s reign his VEEP Dick Cheney proclaimed: “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.”
Maybe the federal debt doesn’t matter if you’re a selfish, cynical, septuagenarian billionaire who wants more, more, more. Maybe if you’ve only got about a decade left, running up the nation’s credit cards to create the illusion of prosperity doesn’t matter —but only if your conscience, if you had one to begin with, is a dead, shriveled, rotting husk of its former self. I think it matters to our kids and grandkids, though.
So in light of how America works now—in the context of who is building wealth at unprecedented rates—we’re supposed to believe from Sanders’ story that beer drinker #10—the wealthiest of the wealthy—is going to sweep up his chips and walk away from the table in a hissy fit. He’s going to stop generating increasing quantities of incredible wealth for himself for the sole purpose of no longer paying such a high share of taxes.
That is why that beer-drinkers metaphor is absolute nonsense, designed to chump us for the sole benefit the über-wealthy. It’s a pile of bullpucky deeper than Trump’s response to a reporter regarding how much he stood to benefit from his tax plan: “No, I don’t benefit. I don’t benefit. In fact, very very strongly, as you see, I think there’s very little benefit for people of wealth.”
If you buy that steaming pile of bullpucky, I’ve got a sundial-shaped bridge across the Sacramento I’ll sell you at a great price, believe me. It’s a hell of a bargain—that I can promise you.