Mick Mulvaney

Explaining Trumponomics

Terry H. Schwadron

Okay, we finally have an explanation for Trumponomics, the idea of taking from the poor to give to the rich. In introducing the new federal budget proposal, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney offered this:

“We’re no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but by the number of people we help get off of those programs.”

I must say: I like having an explanation, but I really don’t like it. We’re in this life together, and we should be trying to help each other. This feels to me as if rather than pay for a fire department to put out fires, we reduce funding in the hopes that homes and businesses never burn, because we want to reward non-burning.

The secret behind this thought is rapid growth of the economy, this year’s version of trickle-down Reaganomics.

By substantially reducing corporate taxes, eliminating environmental, labor and consumer protections, eliminating regulations and reduce requirements for health care, the idea is to incent U.S. companies to double their business investments, hire everyone in the country, getting them off any and all (federal) government security net programs.

Maybe it is a wonderful vision, but it’s not a very wise assessment of most of the assumptions. They might try magic.

  • Doubled Growth? More economists of all political stripe who are asked about all this would-be growth are saying there are few linkages here. Indeed, history says money saved on tax cuts go to executive salaries and perks, not to doubled-investment in new jobs. The Fed shows by its discussions and guarded raises of interest rates that they do not accept the growth argument.
  • Jobs? There are uneven reports behind an increasingly positive jobs report, with more growth in places like Utah and Nebraska than in, say, central cities. Indeed, those places where jobs are growing say they have trouble finding qualified workers; this same budget proposal cuts money set aside for job training or towards funding community colleges. I any event, with unemployment rates below 5%, the open question is how much more jobs will grow.
  • Paying for tax cuts. Mulvaney ran into immediate criticism on the budget proposal for double-counting and his math. The voluminous spending cuts are required to pay for tax cuts and balancing the budget in 10 years, but the same “savings” is being cited to balance a budget that wants to increase costs for defense, security, immigration police and a Wall on the southern border. What we are more likely to see is a sea of red ink, increased debt and increased interest costs from the eventual higher levels of borrowing that will be necessary.

All of this sounds pretty cut and dried, and well above the effects on the average person, particularly the average low-income person — the target of the Trump political campaign.

Mulvaney said, “We’re no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but by the number of people we help get off of those programs.”

That pretty much says straightforwardly that the Trump vision is for competitive survival, not for a society that seeks out social problems and tries to resolve them.

Look at inner cities where race and class are huge factors, where education gains lag, where tightened local budgets are creating problems of their own. This budget proposal seems blind to the idea that these areas need an extra hand to get out of their ruts.

Mulvaney, a former member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, says that reforming the safety net is key to achieving faster growth. “If you’re on food stamps and you’re able-bodied, we need you to go to work,” Mulvaney said. “If you’re on disability insurance and you’re not supposed to be, if you’re not truly disabled, we need you to go back to work. We need everybody pulling in the same direction.” The budget cuts Social Security Disability Insurance by about 4 percent.

“I believe in the social safety net,” Mulvaney said. “And what we’ve done is not to try and remove the safety net for folks who need it but to try and figure out if there’s folks who don’t need it that need to be back in the workforce.”

Every administration promises to fight waste in these programs, and they do. Building an entire budget around re-routing money for social programs and health care to tax cuts and a military build-up. There is a healthy argument about the degree to which these actions violate the President’s own campaign promises not to touch Social Security (the retirement benefits are not touched here) or Medicaid (it heavily cuts Medicaid) or health care (obiously there is a huge argument here) of Food Stamps (about 25% of the SNAP program.)

If the President isn’t going to measure compassion by the number of people who are affected positively, I am sure that those who lose their benefits do. I hope the number of people who recognize that you don’t measure compassion by dropping benefits increase the number who have passion to go to the ballot box in 2018 and beyond.

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