I recently got into an argument with a friend of mine – let’s call him John. John – a Ph.D. candidate in economics at Harvard – had just gone through the tax bill President Trump signed Friday, and wanted to have a vigorous discussion about the pros and cons of the legislation. He was tired of the fuzzy generalizations and inaccurate polemics, and wanted to have a nuanced debate on the matter.
I replied that that would be a little like arguing over the position of deck chairs on the Titanic.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a firm believer in rational discourse, the exchange of spirited opinions, even the occasional diatribe. I actually believe that dogmatism and morality purges – on both sides of the aisle – are among the biggest reasons for our current state of political dysfunction. For example, I find the left’s blanket dismissal of religion and spirituality has been a tremendous blunder, leading to a series of morally bankrupt positions (“abortions are natural, have as many as you like”) and the alienation of a large swathe of society who use religion to inform their day-to-day lives.
That being said ...
The continued enrichment of the ultra-wealthy at the expense of the rest of the nation must be resisted at all costs. Any attempt to remotely justify it or make it seem worth defending in the slightest is a morally bankrupt position and one that will see this country – as we know it – disintegrate in the near future.
To start with, there are now three men who own as much wealth as the bottom 50 percent of America, and every major U.S. metropolitan area that isn’t NYC is salivating to destroy their social safety nets and municipal budgets to give one of those men a lot more money. At the same time, unemployment is low, corporate profits are at record highs, and the Dow continues to climb. From any objective viewpoint, the rational economic policy would be to raise taxes in an attempt to mitigate gaping inequality and an ever-ballooning debt.
The ultra-rich, however, have no interest in being objective. The truth is that the corporate lobby has been pushing like crazy for this kind of bill since forever, and, every single chance they get, they take from the poor and give to the rich.
In order to make it seem like it’s not a direct pillaging of the American people, the tax bill was wrapped in that age old fable: cut taxes on the rich and corporations and the wealth will flow out into society at large. In reality, this school of thought, called trickle-down economics, is literally the single most debunked economic theory in the history of economic theories. It was first rolled out under Reagan, and there is a strong and direct correlation between this policy (which ended up being embraced by the following neoliberal Democratic administrations – capitulation to money is a bipartisan issue) and the massive wealth gap in today’s society.
It’s a farce. Everyone knows it’s a farce. It’s reached a point today where you have Gary Cohn awkwardly asking a room full of CEOs why they are admitting, point-blank, that they have no intention of passing on their new tax windfalls to their employees.
This at a time where “real America” is suffering from shredded safety nets, an opiod epidemic, a dearth of jobs and education, crumbling infrastructure, and a massive mental health crisis. A time where aspiring professionals owe $1.4 trillion in student debt, a burden that prevents them from contributing to either their own savings or the overall economy. A time when living standards for the average citizen are declining, year after year after year, when the effects of these policies continue to shred the safety net and the American dream with every passing day.
And you want to debate whether it’s a good idea to do it again, because it repeals the SALT exemption or doesn’t bankrupt a majority of graduate students in America (after going through committee)?
Time and again, mainstream conservative (and neoliberal) economic policy – which this now-passed bill perfectly exemplifies – has been shown to be little more than a way for the ultra-rich to continue looting the economy and taxpayer coffers, while spreading a poisonous ideology that blames the less-fortunate for the side-effects of the plundering. It’s time we face it.
Carter Ruff is a former resident of Chapel Hill.