With a multitude of candidates to choose from for election 2020 on the Democratic side and a safe prediction that at least one Republican will try to primary Trump, it will be a very interesting election season to watch out for.
That being said, we still have plenty of time to keep analyzing these candidates and much can — and will – happen in the chaotic realm that is the Trump administration until then.
But those of us who are fighting for a candidate that can beat Trump and bring populist ideas need to be aware of the scare tactics and framing of every major issue from mainstream media. If our ideas are to be considered less “fringe,” we must learn how to combat their messaging strategy when it comes to cost.
Mainstream media – for the most part – is dead set on labeling progressive policy ideas like Medicare-for-all and a Green New Deal as extreme, expensive or “socialist.”
Make no mistake, asking how lawmakers intend to pay for their policy proposals is not necessarily bad. But it has not gone unnoticed when those questions are asked, how they’re framed and to whom they are directed. Additionally, even when someone answers those questions in a detailed, factual manner it seems the media does not accept the answer and continues the cycle of scare tactics.
To be perfectly honest, the media likely will not change; it’s so monopolized by a few corporations that it clearly does the bidding of the establishment. The corporations that own CNN, Fox, MSNBC, WP and the NY Times, among others all operate on viciously supporting what is and label any ideas outside what they consider mainstream as “extreme.”
The question of cost is asked when lawmakers propose domestic policies that help all Americans. The question of how to pay for budget increases for the Pentagon is never asked. On top of that, we keep throwing money at the Pentagon despite the fact that their first ever audit concluded that between 1998 and 2015, $21 trillion was unaccounted for by the Pentagon.
We’re talking about trillions of dollars of taxpayer money just vanishing. And yet, we still throw money at the Pentagon trusting it won’t be mismanaged.
When Republicans proposed tax legislation, such as the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the media was not asking how it would be paid for.
Republicans and right-wing pundits who support tax cuts often flock to two arguments within the supply side of economics theory.
One assumption is that cutting taxes – particularly for the wealthy and corporations – will pay for itself through generated economic growth. The other assumption states if you give tax cuts to corporations, they are then incentivized to turn around and invest that money back into the company and raise wages and put money into R&D.
Here’s the problem with those assumptions: There is no evidence to suggest that either of them is true.
Advocates of tax cuts cite historical examples like the Reagan tax cuts in 1981 and the Bush tax cuts from 2003. Despite long-held Republican talking points, tax cuts have never actually paid for themselves.
In 2016, two researchers surveyed studies detailing individual income tax cuts and economic growth. Most studies found either a very small positive effect or a negative effect on growth. The studies and simulations concluded it is unclear whether individual tax cuts increase growth at all, let alone generating enough to pay for themselves.
With regards to both the 1981 and 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, CBO found that actual revenue collection was much lower than what had been projected prior to the tax cuts passing.
There is also no evidence to suggest corporate tax cuts go back into the American worker. Corporations do one thing with tax cuts: stock buy-backs, which was illegal prior to 1981 because it was considered market manipulation (I agree).
Basically, corporations receive a large tax cut, they use the money to buy back their own stock – artificially increasing prices – boosting the stock market and making themselves and their shareholders richer.
But the stock market is not the only way to have a successful economy, nor does it tell the whole story about the economy. It predominantly benefits the wealthiest Americans, while actual wages for workers remain at a 40-year stagnant.
Stock buybacks are predominantly the reason the economy is doing well right now and it makes me want to scream when middle or lower-class people talk about the “great economy” under Trump when evidence shows it only helps the wealthiest people and it likely won’t last.
Another thing that typically occurs after cutting taxes for the rich is that the deficit balloons. The Trump tax cuts were promised to pay for themselves and they have not done so, and they have also massively decreased revenues, leading to a budget deficit on track to top $1 trillion this year.
So, how we can pay for some of the bold and necessary proposals being pushed by the left?
First, I’ll address a common misunderstanding. Many on the right and the left seem to think that to get any progressive policies done, we must start from our existing economic framework.
This completely ignores the standpoint of some candidates, particularly Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. These candidates primarily operate on the assumption that our economy is functionally broken and rigged in favor of the wealthy.
I don’t know how the 2020 candidates intend to address structural injustices before trying to implement any of the policies, but these questions should come up before or during the primaries.
Each candidate must address tax avoidance and closing loopholes in the U.S. before adjusting the tax code. This is the first step in answering the question of how to pay for progressive policies.
A 2017 Forbes piece states that in absolute terms, the U.S. experiences the highest annual corporate tax losses of any country by far, totaling an estimated $189 billion lost revenue per year.
Many large corporations also have the benefit of offshore tax havens and citizens for tax justice found that they dodge about $90 billion per year by shifting profits offshore.
Also, we know that some of the largest companies in America like Amazon are able to pay nothing in federal income tax because of the structural rules that make up our economy. But, they are not the only billion-dollar companies who do this.
This process makes it so that the burden of tax revenue shifts from the wealthiest to middle-class Americans. The overall point here is that we are literally losing billions of dollars in revenue per year because we have a fundamentally broken system that caters to the wealthy.
So, when deliberating how to pay for social programs that help people, maybe multi-billion dollar corporations can start paying some taxes. That is not an unreasonable suggestion to make on either side of the political aisle, considering higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations also poll very well.
Progressive Youtuber David Pakman did a detailed video on this topic in which he proposes different methods of paying for these programs. For instance, reversing the Bush and Trump tax cuts, leading to $488 billion and $164 billion respectively in revenue every year, ending the war in Afghanistan would save $45 billion per year and implementing 2% and 3% taxes above income over $50 million and $1 billion would bring in $2.75 trillion over 10 years. Increasing marginal tax rates like the ones in place prior to the 1980’s would bring in $1.8 trillion over 10 years and ending subsidies for fossil fuels would bring in $26 billion.
Many of the methods mentioned are not even new taxes, they are simply re-allocations of money we already spend. Furthermore, some of the new taxes proposed do not affect the majority of people.
My overall point is to think about spending differently and to address the structural inequalities that make up our economy. Instead of spending billions of dollars on endless war, corporate subsidies and tax cuts, we can spend money on things that actually benefit Americans like healthcare and education.
And it won’t cost everyday Americans a fortune.
As far as any progressive proposals being labeled “radical,” radical is doing 40 years of supply side/neoliberal economics, expecting a different result, repeating talking points like “tax cuts lead to growth” despite no empirical evidence, and then that becoming policy.
Sydney Tindell-King is a second-year graduate student studying journalism & electronic media. She can be reached at email@example.com
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