2019-12-22 — qz.com
The early data doesn't look good for one of Trump's top legislative achievements. Two years on, it's clear the law did indeed boost GDP growth--but for only a short period.
"We saw a short-term boost to output and investment that really seems to have largely dissipated. GDP is growing more slowly and investment is actually shrinking over the past two quarters," said Ben Page, an economist at the non-partisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. "There's almost no evidence for a big inflow of foreign capital."
In the meantime, the government now estimates it will lose $600 billion more in tax revenues than it initially thought, bringing the cut's total cost to $1.6 trillion. Boosting the deficit while the economy is growing and at a late stage in its cycle is irresponsible, Page argues.
Despite what the Democrats claimed, most people did actually pay fewer taxes. But the wealthy got a far bigger cut than the rest of society, according to various studies. Next year, the richest 20% of taxpayers will save more than double the amount of taxes than the remaining 80% of earners combined--and the top 1% have cut their tax bills by an average of $49,950, according to calculations by the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP).
"The tax law has made rich people richer, it's made some foreign investors richer, and it hasn't really accomplished very much else," said Steve Wamhoff, ITEP's director of federal tax policy. "I think this is the exact opposite of what our society needed in this time of greater inequality."
Big companies are having a field day--with FedEx coming to exemplify corporate America's response to the cut. The firm's CEO lobbied hard for the bill on the premise that mass investment by businesses would follow. It then became one of 91 companies, including Amazon and IBM, whose effective tax rates dropped to zero in 2018--in Fedex's case, from 34% the year before. The company then cut its capital spending in both 2018 and 2019, according to the New York Times. Instead of ploughing their extra cash in infrastructure or productivity, big businesses have handed it back to investors through share buybacks.
While Mathur still believes a big business tax cut with incentives for investment was good economic policy, she says she is frustrated with the complexity of the law the Republicans passed. That complexity, she argues, is part of the reason there's been less investment than expected: Businesses are perhaps holding onto the extra cash until the new tax law's full impact on them becomes clearer.
[As to the claims of simplifying the law,] despite Trump's promise of a simpler filing season under his bill, taxpayers have had a rougher time since it passed. "Taxpayers spent about eight billion hours on tax compliance in 2019 (compared with about six billion hours in 2016)," wrote Omri Marian, a tax law professor at the University of California, Irvine. While Trump did fulfill his trademark promise of making the individual tax return fit onto a postcard, the new form is "less intuitive, and requires multiple other new forms to complete," Marian wrote.
A less polite way to summarize this is: fraud. Starting from the fact that the bill was passed as a partisan ram-through by gaming the Byrd rule in the Senate, which required no more than a $1.5tln addition to the deficit. As we have seen, that has been blown through already at this early date (as, of course, we predicted here). Then go on to the points about corporate America lying through their teeth about spending the savings on jobs and reinvestment, and the distribution of tax cuts accruing dramatically to the top 1-20%, and you have quite a fraud layer cake. Of course, this should not be much of a surprise coming from someone named "Trump".
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