We now know who it was Donald Trump was really addressing in his convention speech last summer when he declared “I am your voice”: the Forbes 400 and others in the upper reaches of the 1 Percent.
The one-page tax outline just released by the Trump Administration — with its pass-through scheme, its radical reduction in statutory corporate tax rates, and its elimination of the alternative minimum tax, the estate tax and taxation of overseas business profits — provides an unrestrained windfall for Trump’s own billionaire class.
In defiance of all evidence, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin is insisting that this is not a giveaway to the rich but instead is “all about jobs, jobs, jobs.” This is the same official who, harking back to the snake oil of the Reagan Administration, insists that the tax cuts will “pay for themselves.”
The claim that the corporate tax cuts will boost the economy and job creation is based on the widely promoted but largely baseless claim that U.S. business is burdened with excessively high rates. As groups such as the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy have repeatedly shown over the years and which ITEP documents once again in a recent report, many large corporations pay effective tax rates far below the 35 percent statutory rate. And through the aggressive use of tax avoidance techniques, quite a few of those manage to bring their effective rate down to zero or less.
Even if one accepts the questionable connection between taxes and job creation, Trump’s proposal would have no effect on employment in sectors such as utilities, industrial machinery, telecommunications and oil & gas, which ITEP shows are already paying effective rates below 15 percent.
There are sectors currently paying rates well above 15 percent, but it is not clear that lower taxes would do much to create jobs — and even less so, good jobs. One of the highest effective rates can be found in the retail sector, which despite this supposed burden, has over the year added millions of jobs. Unfortunately, most of those positions are substandard. The typical retail wage is about a third lower than the average for the private sector as a whole.
Recently, retail employment has been falling, but this has nothing to do with taxes; it’s the result of the increasing number of people buying stuff online rather than from brick-and-mortar stores. Giving big tax cuts to Wal-Mart and Dollar General will not reverse the job loss nor will it improve the wages of their remaining workers.
It’s also unclear what benefits will come from reducing taxes on health care companies, which also pay effective rates close to the statutory level. Taxes have not stood in the way of massive employment growth in this sector, which on the whole pays better than retail but has a substantial number of low-wage jobs. The future of this sector depends not on taxes but instead on whether Trump and Congressional Republicans succeed in dismantling the Affordable Care Act.
Another part of the Trump outline that will do little to create good jobs is the call for the repatriation and light taxation of foreign profits that corporations have been parking overseas. Business apologists have long made extravagant claims for this policy, but previous experiments with repatriation holidays did not boost jobs or even investment and instead simply fattened profits and dividends.
Those who put together the Trump tax outline are either oblivious to the discussion in recent years about growing income and wealth inequality or they deliberately set out to make the problem much worse. In either event, the plutocrats are rejoicing.