The Trump Tax Cuts Worked (As a Scam)

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That rising tide’s gonna lift all boats any day now. Photo: Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In 2017, more than 27 million Americans lacked health insurance of any kind. Many of our nation’s public schools were struggling to stock their classrooms with basic supplies, or to pay their teachers a living wage, or to keep their doors open five days a week. Underfunded rehab centers were consigning desperate opioid addicts to waiting lists amidst an overdose epidemic that would kill more Americans that one year than the Vietnam War claimed over its entire duration. Half a million Americans went homeless. More than 10 million children, in the wealthiest country on Earth, lived in “food-insecure” households.


And our congressional representatives decided that the best thing they could possibly do with $1.5 trillion in borrowed money was to give large tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations (and much smaller ones to middle-class households).

In the Trump era, Republicans have become masters of rationalizing the indefensible. But even they couldn’t defend running up the deficit (and clamping down social spending) to boost corporate profits at a time when such profits were already high. Thus, they insisted that the president’s tax cuts would neither increase the deficit nor benefit the wealthy much at all.

On the surface, it might look like Republicans were simply choosing to put cash in the hands of business owners instead of using those funds to address wrenching social problems, or boost the incomes of the indigent. But this was an illusion born of economic illiteracy. Spending $1.5 trillion on health care for the uninsured, or treatment for drug addicts, or raises for public-school teachers might sound better than devoting that same sum to regressive tax cuts. But such comparisons are rooted in a category error, Republicans explained: Unlike social spending, corporate tax cuts pay for themselves by growing our economy’s productive capacity. Give a poor man a handout, he eats for a day; give corporations a tax break, and they will make growth-enhancing investments that enable poor men to discover the “dignity of work” and the middle class to enjoy a jump in living standards.

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