Trump's Big Tax Plan Lets the Modern Robber Barons Win

The plan is being sold as the path to growth and more jobs, but the reality is that it poses grave risks of returning us to a time when we were at the mercy of billionaire owners of vast monopolies.

|
Jan 2 2018, 3:30pm

Image via Wikimedia Commons

This is an opinion piece by Anastasia Christman, Ph.D. in American History, the director of research with the National Employment Law Project.

President Trump’s tax plan is now law. We’ve seen before this notion of entrusting our wealth to corporations so that they will hire workers and distribute it downwards, and we’ve had a president who promised great things as result. His name was Herbert Hoover, and the top-down, laissez-faire approach he espoused both precipitated and exacerbated the Great Depression. Our country survived that crisis, mostly because we made a commitment as a democratic nation to a set of shared values and pledged to fund them.

Our history has always been one of tension between those who call for shouldering obligations together, and those who seek to shirk their duty. Part of the reasoning behind enshrining this country’s original sin in our founding documents was that the Southern states, filled with people counted as only three-fifths human, paid a lower tax upon them. But we rose above that, and using democratic processes, we collectively agreed that universal contributions to public coffers, based on income levels, was the fairest and best way to finance the tools our democracy needed to grow and prosper.

When the next economic crisis hits—and sooner or later one will hit—the net we spent a century weaving will be in tatters.

Highways, medical discoveries, universities, technological advances, hydro-electric dams, radar to keep our air travel safe, a national postal system, national defense, empty open spaces, safe drinking water: these and other critical developments, which have literally built this country into the superpower it is today, were funded by all of us, voluntarily, through our taxes. We put men on the moon. We decoded the very blueprint of life printed in our genome. We are the ones who invented the internet—all of us—because we are the ones who made the promise to pay for the technology on which a new century has been founded. And everyone benefits. Even the big corporations that need our roads and our educated populace and our internet to operate; they, too, rely on a daily basis upon our collective contributions.

When we fall down—we lose a job, a family member gets sick, we age—our fellow Americans are there for us then, too, by funding vital social insurance programs (like Social Security) to sustain and aid us.

In the last Gilded Age—when powerful robber barons controlled our economy, merging their holdings into ever larger monopolies; when working people struggled to stay housed and fed, and children were uneducated and destined to their own lives of toil—we reaffirmed the commitment made to us in the Constitution. In 1913, we upheld the notion that our government should collect taxes to “provide for the common defense and the general welfare of the United States,” and passed the 16th Amendment calling for “taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived.”


Check out more videos from VICE:


And when, only 16 years later, tragedy struck and our economy crashed, leaving millions jobless and homeless and starving, and the ground we stood on literally blew away, that government we’d thus pledged to fund was in place to save us. We the People had acted responsibly and built a system ready to mobilize when the emergency hit, and New Deal programs coupled with the public spending to prepare for national defense brought us back from the brink.

When we fall down—we lose a job, a family member gets sick, we age—our fellow Americans are there for us then, too, by funding vital social insurance programs (like Social Security) to sustain and aid us.

Three decades ago, during the Reagan era, some sought to re-enshrine trickle-down economics and undermine our shared promise. Angered that those who needed more help should turn to their national community for aid—each of them now counted as a full person and legally entitled to all the rights guaranteed in our founding documents—lawmakers weakened the system we need ready for a rainy day. And when the Great Recession arrived with a vengeance at the end of President George W. Bush’s second term, we struggled to help working women and men regain their footing. Many Americans are still struggling today, a decade after economists declared the ordeal was over.

This latest tax bill—with its whopping corporate tax cut, which President Trump described as “probably the biggest factor in our plan”—takes yet another whack at this shared commitment. In so doing, it poses grave risks of returning us to a time when ordinary Americans had to fend for themselves, when our children could not hope for a higher education, when we died of preventable diseases, and when we were at the mercy of billionaire owners of vast monopolies.

And when the next economic crisis hits—and sooner or later one will hit—the net we spent a century weaving will be in tatters. The boosters of this tax bill and their lobbyist friends are claiming, yet again, that corporate largesse is a better way to run a country than democracy, and that we are better off counting on CEOs than on each other. Herbert Hoover would be proud.

Stories