Trump Tax Cuts–Dangerous for the Deficit

October 6, 2017

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Here I mention one other problem with the Trump tax proposal, besides its potential to increase economic inequality by favoring the wealthy. The Tax Policy Center estimates that it would “reduce federal revenues by $2.4 trillion over the first ten years and $3.2 trillion over the subsequent decade.” Without offsetting cuts in federal spending, it could add hundreds of billions to annual deficits and trillions to the national debt.

The question of how tax cuts influence deficits and the debt is complicated by their uncertain effects on economic growth. If the rate of growth goes up, incomes should rise, and taxes on those incomes should bring in additional revenue. Back in 1974, University of Chicago economist Arthur Laffer proposed that a tax cut can actually pay for itself by stimulating growth, while a tax increase can actually reduce revenue by inhibiting growth. This has become a popular argument for tax cuts, despite the weakness of the evidence supporting it. The big tax cuts under Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush did not pay for themselves, but contributed instead to soaring budget deficits.

Tax analysts have two different ways of evaluating the impact of tax changes on revenue. Conventional scoring makes no assumptions about the effects of the changes on economic growth. Dynamic scoring tries to incorporate an estimate of those effects (known as “macroeconomic feedback effects”) into the prediction model.  The Tax Policy Center said this in their first evaluation of the Trump plan:

This report uses conventional scoring methods that assume the tax proposals do not affect the overall level of economic activity. TPC will release supplemental estimates that include macroeconomic feedback effects soon. Based on TPC and the Penn Wharton Budget Model’s analyses of the macroeconomic effects of the House Republican leadership tax blueprint of 2016 (which shares many characteristics with the [Trump] unified framework), we would expect the framework to have little macroeconomic feedback effect on revenue over the first decade.

Translation: Revenue losses might be a little offset by economic growth effects eventually, but don’t hold your breath.

The Trump economic team has been vigorously promoting the idea that the tax cuts will pay for themselves. They seem to be reading from a familiar Republican playbook: Dismiss concerns about the deficit when calling for tax cuts. Then when the deficit goes up, blame federal spending rather than tax policy. Issue dire warnings about bankrupting future generations and call for cuts in programs that primarily help the middle class and the poor. According to the Republican Party line, the country can always afford another tax cut aimed mainly at the wealthy. What it can’t afford is programs like Medicaid or Obamacare to help people pay for health care.

That the current administration would play the same game is disappointing, considering how much Donald Trump has marketed himself as a champion of the working class. His positions on immigration, foreign trade and race do appeal especially to less educated voters. But on fiscal policy, his thinking seems very much in line with the Republican establishment, favoring tax cuts for the wealthy and spending cuts for the poor. He is very good at hiding his real aims behind a populist, pro-worker, pro-growth rhetoric. So far, most of his supporters are sticking with him, even as he sticks it to them with his economic policies.


Trump Tax Cuts–Meager for the Middle Class

October 5, 2017

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Whatever else President Trump’s “tax reform” proposal is, it is a big tax cut for the wealthy (see previous post). Adding a higher bracket to the three listed in the proposal (12%, 25% and 35%) would help (and is reportedly under discussion), but other goodies for the rich would still remain, such as the repeal of the estate tax.

How do the benefits for other taxpayers compare to those for the wealthy? The Tax Policy Center combined the President’s “Unified Framework” with the House Republican leaderhip’s “A Better Way” tax plan to estimate how different income groups would fare. The researchers divided the population into five quintiles by income, and then estimated how each group’s after-tax income would be affected. They calculated that in 2018, after-tax income would rise 3.3% for the top quintile, but no more than 1.2% for any of the other quintiles. The big winners would again be the top 1%, whose after-tax income would rise by 8.5%. In 2027, the gains would be 8.7% for the top 1%, 3.0% for the top quintile, and no more than half of one percent for any of the other quintiles.

In dollar terms, the average taxpayer in the middle quintile would save $660 on their taxes in 2018 and $420 in 2027.

Why are the middle-class tax cuts so small?

The Trump tax plan adds some tax breaks, especially for the wealthy, but it also eliminates some tax benefits that go to millions of people, such as the personal exemption and the state income tax deduction.

The most obvious new benefit for the masses is the increase in the standard deduction, which would go from $6,350 to $12,000 for single taxpayers, and from $12,700 to $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. However, the elimination of personal exemptions would increase taxable income by $4,050 for each taxpayer or dependent in the household. A one-person household would gain $5,650 in deductions but lose one $4,050 exemption, coming out a little ahead. A family of four would gain $11,300 in deductions but lose $16,200 in exemptions, coming out behind.

The proposed increase in the child tax credit could offset some of the loss in personal exemptions, but the proposal did not specify the amount of the increase. The Tax Policy Center assumed that it might go from $1,000 to $1,500 per child.

Many taxpayers itemize because their specific deductions exceed the standard deduction. Under the Trump plan, there would be less to itemize. Mortgage interest and charitable donations would still be deductible, but many others would disappear, including deductions for state, local and real estate taxes. Taxpayers whose interest and charitable deductions were greater than or equal to the new standard deduction would get no benefit from it, but they could lose many thousands of dollars in other deductions and exemptions. That’s one reason why about one in every eight taxpayers would get an immediate tax increase.

The promise of growth

The President’s proposal says a lot about lowering the tax burden on the middle class and making the tax code fairer. That’s more than a little disingenuous, given that the benefits go primarily to the wealthy. But the proposal makes brief reference to another rationale, creating a “tax code built for growth.” The assumption is that tax cuts will stimulate economic activity, creating jobs and raising wages for many.

If that’s true, maybe it doesn’t matter as much how much the cuts directly benefit the middle class. Middle-income people would presumably benefit indirectly from the increase in general prosperity. Even benefits focused mainly on the rich could “trickle down” to benefit people of more modest means. The proposal can’t make that argument explicitly, since it is pretending to cut taxes primarily for the middle class. Too obvious an endorsement of trickle-down economics helped defeat Mitt Romney in 2012.  Nevertheless, it is what most Republicans still believe.

Why should tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy accelerate economic growth? Supposedly, because it will give them the means and the motivation to invest more in business expansion. The underlying assumption is that money in private hands will be used productively, while money in the government’s hands is more likely to be wasted.

Many economists have their doubts about this theory. Here are a few that I’ve heard expressed:

  1. Cutting taxes to stimulate the economy may work in times of recession, but it isn’t as likely to help when the economy has been growing for some time. Instead of putting idle resources to work, the extra capital may just feed inflation. That in turn may induce the Federal Reserve to cool the economy by raising interest rates.
  2. As countries go, the United States is not particularly over-taxed. The top personal rate is much lower than it used to be. The official corporate rate is high, but most companies pay far less after deductions.
  3. Companies are not generally suffering from a lack of capital, but are often sitting on piles of money they are not investing productively.
  4. When companies do invest in new plants and equipment, it is often in industrial robots that destroy jobs instead of creating them.
  5. The government will need to pay for the tax cuts either by cutting spending or increasing borrowing. Spending cuts can cost jobs, and increased borrowing can raise interest rates and encourage Treasury bond purchases instead of more productive investments.
  6. The economic data do not support the generalization that countries with lower taxes have greater economic growth.

What is more certain is that tax cuts aimed at the wealthy generate more economic inequality, and we have enough of that already.

Continued


Trump Tax Cuts–Windfall for the Wealthy

October 4, 2017

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Last week, the Trump Administration released its tax proposal, titled “Tax Reform: Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code.” Many observers have characterized it as short on reform but long on tax cuts, especially for the wealthy. I agree with them.

Although it is a little more fleshed out than the vague outline the administration released earlier, the proposal still leaves a lot of specific details up to Congress. Although it would reduce the number of personal income tax brackets from seven to three, it does not specify the thresholds for the new brackets; nor does it specify the size of the increased child credit that will replace the personal exemption for dependents. The White House has used the lack of detail to deflect criticism, claiming that the critics don’t know enough yet to assess the impact on taxpayers at different income levels.

However, that hasn’t stopped the President and his supporters from making some sweeping claims of their own about who will benefit most. The stated goals include “tax relief for middle-class families” and “tax relief for businesses, especially small businesses.” They say nothing about benefits for the wealthy. Trump himself claims that the plan will “put more money into the pockets of everyday hardworking people,” and that “I don’t benefit” from the changes. That may be the biggest falsehood he has ever told, and that’s saying a lot.

The proposal would cut taxes for the wealthy in at least five ways.

Personal income tax rates

The current law taxes personal income in seven income brackets, at rates ranging from 10% to 39.6%. The proposed system would have only three rates: 12%, 25% and 35%. Immediately we can see that top incomes get a reduction, although it is less clear than lower incomes do.

Although the thresholds for the new brackets are not definite, the analysis by the Tax Policy Center made the reasonable assumption that they will resemble the thresholds proposed by House Republicans in their 2016 tax plan, which Donald Trump praised when he was running for President. Based on those thresholds and other features of the proposal, the Center estimated how taxpayers in each of the five quintiles of income would be affected. (Quintiles are not the same as tax brackets, but just divisions of the population into fifths.)

In 2018, when the plan is assumed to go into effect, taxpayers in the top quintile would average a tax cut of $8,470, and they would receive 74.5% of all the tax cuts distributed. Taxpayers in the middle quintile would get an average tax cut of only $660. Even more startling, the richest 1% of taxpayers would get an average tax cut of $129,030, and by themselves get 53.3% of all the tax cuts.

It gets worse over time. By 2027, the average cut for the 1% would reach $207,060 while the average cut for the middle quintile would fall to $420. By then 79.7% of all the cuts would be going to the 1%. (Why one group’s tax cut goes down while another’s goes up has to do with how various features of the tax code are indexed for inflation.)

The Trump plan includes a rather vague remedy for this apparent unfairness: “An additional top rate may apply to the highest-income taxpayers to ensure that the reformed tax code is at least as progressive as the existing tax code and does not shift the tax burden from high-income to lower- and middle-income taxpayers.” Given that almost everything in the plan favors the wealthy, translating this pledge into reality will be a very tall order, and one that Congressional Republicans are unlikely to have any enthusiasm for carrying out. (I have been reading Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, which makes a pretty good case that today’s Republican Party pursues an agenda largely dictated by their richest donors.) The leadership is prepared to pass the bill entirely with Republican votes, using the budget reconciliation process to rule out a filibuster by Senate Democrats.

Corporate tax rates

The proposal would lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%. This is also a benefit mainly for the wealthy, for two reasons.

The Congressional Budget Office, US Treasury, and the Tax Policy Center agree that the owners of capital bear most of the burden of corporate taxes, with only an estimated 19-25% falling on workers.

Although many workers own a small amount of corporate stock in their retirement plans, most stock ownership is in the hands of the richest 10% of the population. Less for Uncle Sam means more for the stockholders.

Pass-through business tax rates

Small businesses such as sole proprietorships, partnerships and S-corporations pass through their income to their owners, who pay taxes on it at individual rates as high as 39.6%.

The proposal would tax such pass-through income at a maximum of 25%. However, the great majority of small business owners already pay 25% or less because their income doesn’t exceed the individual threshold of $91,000 or the married threshold of $153,100. According to the New York Times, the effective tax rate for sole proprietors is only 13.6% now. The benefits of this tax cut would go exclusively to owners with higher incomes.

The Trump framework promises “tax relief for businesses, especially small businesses,” but it would more accurately read “especially large businesses.”

Alternative Minimum Tax repeal

The AMT is an alternative tax calculation that high earners with many deductions must complete in order to keep them from avoiding their fair share of taxes. The little bit we know about Trump’s own taxes reveals that he would have paid $31 million less in taxes in just one year (2005) if it weren’t for the AMT. Repealing it is mostly another gift to folks like him.

One can argue that if the new tax law succeeds in its goal of “providing greater fairness for all Americans by closing special interest tax breaks and loopholes,” then the Alternative Minimum Tax will be less necessary. On the other hand, one could argue that it may be more necessary than ever, given all the other tax breaks for the rich in the plan.

Estate tax repeal

The estate tax has already been “reformed” to the point that it only applies to estates valued over $5.49 million. Abolishing the estate tax would benefit only the wealthy, especially people as wealthy as Trump himself, whose estate has been estimated at several billion dollars. Trump has claimed that the repeal would primarily benefit farms and small business owners, but the Tax Policy Center found that less than 1% of the estate tax revenue comes from that group.

And for the rest of us…?

Even without many of the details worked out, the wealthy appear to be the overwhelming beneficiaries of the tax proposals, which are mostly just tax cuts for them. The benefits for the middle class are smaller and more uncertain. I will elaborate on that in the next post.

Continued


Rise of the Robots (part 3)

May 24, 2017

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Because Ford’s book is focused on the loss of human jobs to robots, he has next to nothing to say about job creation. If, however, a higher level of intelligence enables human beings to do things that machines cannot, as Ford himself admits, maybe we can do more of those things as we turn over the narrower thinking tasks to the machines.

The personalized service frontier

If there is any new frontier in job creation that can escape the rise of the robots, I think it would be in the realm of personalized services, the least routine and predictable things we do. In fact, when a service professional is helping a client, the problem of predictability is compounded.  If you’re a legal professional, artificial intelligence systems that process information about laws, cases and legal documents will be a great help. But lawyers still have to apply the law to the unique circumstances of the client’s case, and that is a more creative task.

Similarly, thousands of students can listen to the same lecture online, but they need a creative teacher to engage with their particular thought processes as they struggle to reconcile new ideas with what they already think. That’s why many educators are talking about “flipping the classroom”–letting students gather more information online while changing the classroom from a lecture hall into a setting for more creative collaboration. If all that students know how to do is take in lectures and cough up the material for the test, they will be at risk of being replaced by a machine. We can give in to the machines, or accept the invitation to take education to a new level that requires smaller classes and more teachers.

In so many areas, people need more personalized services than they are getting. In addition to teachers and financial planners, they need mental health services, legal services, job training, drug treatment programs, child care, and of course affordable health care. The question is whether these services will remain scarce and expensive, or whether we can expand the market for them in the information economy.

Making services more economical

We can be fairly sure that many menial service jobs will eventually be more economically performed by robots than by humans. The days of supermarket checkout clerks are numbered. The problem for aspiring professors, counselors, financial planners, and so forth is a little different. It is not so much that robots will replace them, but that too few people will be able to afford their services, or that they themselves will not be able to afford the price of admission to their desired profession.

I can think of several ways that the information revolution could help. As automation lowers the cost of producing goods and routine services, people can spend a larger portion of their income on personalized services. And information technology should also save labor in the personalized services themselves, bringing costs down there as well. A lawyer assisted by artificial intelligence shouldn’t have to spend as long preparing a case. I know that as a financial planner assisted by sophisticated software, I was able to prepare a financial plan in a very reasonable amount of time and at a very modest cost. My plans always had a human element, with personalized commentary as well as machine-generated tables and charts, but the human-machine collaboration made the service more affordable for my clients.

The technology was also very affordable for me. I did have to rely on a financial software company that no doubt made more money than I did. Ford emphasizes the centralization of information capital, a situation in which a few companies controlling software and Big Data can dominate markets while employing very few workers. But there is another side to that. Information can be duplicated at a very low marginal cost. Software development may be costly, but as the cost is spread over more and more copies, the unit cost keeps shrinking. An aspiring financial planner or other service provider can subscribe to software support for a very modest annual fee. Such easy access to information capital should make it easier to create personalized service jobs.

A big price of admission to many service professions is the cost of education. Education is such a public good that its cost should be widely spread throughout society. Making students go heavily into debt in order to learn what they need in order to be contributing members of society is not a very sensible policy. Ford agrees, and he hopes that new technologies can reduce the cost of instruction. He seems less interested in expanding higher education, since he expects people at all levels of education to have trouble finding jobs. I am more interested in such expansion, because I believe that the jobs we can create will usually require more education than the jobs we destroy.

The role of the public sector

If we agree that education is a public good whose cost should be widely spread throughout society, that suggests a major role for the public sphere in making it more accessible and affordable. The same logic could be extended to other services. Services that contribute to the general health, education and welfare of the population constitute public goods that are worthy of some public funding. Not only do such services create jobs in themselves, but they can help people build their human capital and meet the demands of the advanced economy, keeping them one step ahead of the robots.

Ford isn’t very supportive of this kind of public funding. Here’s what he has to say about elder-care:

The main problem with elder-care robots as they exist today is that they really don’t do a whole lot….The realization of an affordable, multitasking elder-care robot that can autonomously assist people who are almost completely dependent on others probably remains far in the future….It might seem reasonable to expect that the looming shortage of nursing home workers and home health aids will, to a significant extent, offset any technology-driven job losses that occur in other sectors of the economy….[But] by the time the majority of older people reach the point where they need personal, daily assistance, relatively few are likely to have the private means to hire home health aids, even if the wages for these jobs continue to be very low. As a result, these will probably be quasi-government jobs funded by programs like Medicare or Medicaid and will therefore be viewed as more of a problem than a solution.

So here we have a valuable service that isn’t being provided either by robots or enough human workers, and yet Ford rejects the expenditure of more public money to fund it. Once again, that reveals his narrow focus on his recommended basic income guarantee to support consumption. In effect, he would rather have government pay people not to work than to work. We can find more work for robots, but not create more jobs for humans.

Public funding requires some form of taxation. Conservatives often oppose higher taxes, especially on the wealthy, on the grounds that they will interfere with investments by the “job creators” in economic growth. If capital should become as self-serving as Ford expects, with businesses increasing profits by destroying jobs rather than creating them, that argument should become less convincing. One wonders how high unemployment will have to go before people turn to the public sector for job creation, as they did in the 1930s.

A broader moral argument

Ford is concerned about growing inequality, and he does make the argument that as taxpayers who have supported basic technological research, people have a legitimate claim on technology’s benefits. I agree, but I would also ground popular rights in a more basic principle, the dignity of human labor. Let the machines do the work they can do better than people can. But respect people as more than just purchasers of what the machines provide. Help people be as creative as they can be as producers–paid and unpaid–as well as consumers.


Tax Reform in Name Only

April 28, 2017

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In a last-ditch effort to show some legislative progress in his first 100 days in office, President Trump presented a “tax reform plan” this week. I put that in quotes because I do not think it is tax reform in any meaningful sense of the term. I also agree with those who say it isn’t even a plan, just a one-page wish list of things the President would like to see in a plan. At this point, the proposal is too skimpy on details to evaluate in more than a very general way. One thing that seems clear is that it is mainly another tax cut for the wealthy that will add to the federal deficit.

The first section of the proposal lists “goals for tax reform”:

  • Grow the economy and create millions of jobs
  • Simplify our burdensome tax code
  • Provide tax relief to American families–especially middle-income families
  • Lower the business tax rate from one of the highest in the world to one of the lowest

One goal that is not on this list is making sure that all individuals and corporations pay their fair share by closing tax loopholes. That might be awkward for Donald Trump, since he is suspected of paying unreasonably low taxes on his own vast earnings. He feeds that suspicion by refusing to release his tax returns. (Later sections do refer to “eliminating tax breaks,” without mentioning any particular ones.)

Because the proposal emphasizes tax cuts more than anything else, it also does not promise to fulfil Trump’s pledge to reduce the deficit and reverse–or at least control–the growth in the national debt.

Some of the goals that are listed are questionable. For example, according to most analysts, the bulk of the tax relief would go to corporate shareholders, business owners, and other wealthy individuals, not to middle-income families as claimed.

Corporate taxes

The proposal would reduce the corporate tax from “one of the highest in the world”–35%–to “one of the lowest in the world”–15%. The 35% rate is misleading, since most corporations take advantage of various loopholes to pay much less than that, and many pay no taxes at all. Billionaire hedge fund managers pay only 15% now because of a loophole known as the “carried-interest deduction.”

The most obvious beneficiaries of corporate tax cuts would be shareholders, whose stockholdings would increase in value. Indeed, stock prices have already risen, at least partly in anticipation of the cuts. That benefit goes mainly to the wealthy, since the richest 10% of the population owns over 70% of the assets, and that certainly includes stock ownership. (See, for example, Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century.)

The proposal would also apply the 15% tax rate to unincorporated but owner-operated businesses such as limited partnerships. That would be a big break for business owners whose income currently “passes through” from the business to the individual and is taxed at ordinary income tax rates as high as 39.6%. That has the potential to create a new loophole for people who do not currently structure their work as a business but could find ways of doing so. Even employees might save taxes by starting a business and arranging to sell their services to their former employer.

The proposal calls for a “one-time tax on trillions of dollars held overseas,” in order to encourage companies to bring money back and invest it at home. On the other hand, it calls for a “territorial tax system” that eliminates taxes on future earnings in other countries. Whether on balance, these provisions encourage or discourage domestic job creation is not clear.

Individual taxes

The proposal would simplify taxes by reducing the number of tax brackets from seven (ranging from 10% to 39.6%) to three (10%, 25%, 35%) and eliminating most tax deductions.  Evaluating the financial impact with any precision is impossible, since the proposal does not even provide the income ranges covered by each bracket!  Based on ideas put forth during the campaign and some commonsense analysis, the overall effect would probably be to make the income tax flatter and less progressive.

Obviously taxpayers in the 39.6% bracket (incomes over $415,050 individual or $466,950 married) would have their marginal rate lowered to at least 35%. People who currently fall into the next three brackets (35%, 33% or 28%, with incomes over $91,150 individual or $151,900 married) would have the potential to be moved down to the 25% bracket. These are very nice tax reductions. Lower than that, the savings are more questionable, since the 10% and 25% brackets would remain, although not necessarily with the same income divisions. The 25% bracket contains so many people (incomes from $37,650 to $91,950 for individuals and $75,300 to $151,900 for couples) that moving very many of them all the way down to 10% would probably be too costly. The people in the very lowest brackets pay so little in taxes already that a further cut would not amount to very much. If the numbers turn out to be similar to a proposal Trump endorsed during his campaign, the savings would be much greater at the top of the distribution, and at least half of all the benefits would go to the top 1% of taxpayers.

The proposal doubles the standard deduction while eliminating most itemized deductions, the big exceptions being the mortgage interest deduction and the charitable deduction. Taxpayers who do not itemize deductions would benefit, but those who do would lose. The loss that affects the most people would be the inability to deduct state and local taxes. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that on the average, giving up itemized deductions would cost taxpayers a little more than getting a higher standard deduction.

The proposal would repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax, which was designed to keep wealthy people from avoiding too many taxes. Certain taxpayers have to calculate their tax two different ways and pay the higher of the two. Eliminating most itemized deductions would make some rich people pay more, but repealing the AMT would allow them to pay less, in some cases much less.

One proposal that is a flat-out gift to the wealthy is repeal of the estate tax, which affects only large estates. Currently individuals can shelter the first $5.5 million from estate taxes, and couples can shelter $11 million, so it makes no difference to most people. But for the 0.2% of estates that are larger than that, the tax savings could be substantial.

President Trump would benefit personally from many provisions of his own wish list. The New York Times analyzed his taxes based on the portion of his 2005 return that became public this year. If all of his proposals were to be enacted, he would save $31 million through repeal of the Alternative Minimum Tax, $27 million from reductions in business taxes, $1.5 million from repealing Obamacare taxes, and $0.5 million from reducing individual tax rates.  He would have to pay $3 million to $5 million more because of the elimination of most deductions, but he would still come out at least $55 million ahead. That’s just in one year. Presumably, he could have similar savings every year. Then when he died, he could transfer his property–worth an estimated $3 billion now–to his heirs without paying 40%–currently 1.2 billion–in estate taxes. That’s not reform; that’s just a raid on the Treasury.

The impact on federal debt and job creation

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has produced a rough estimate of how much the proposed tax cuts would cost the federal government in lost revenue. They expect them to add about $5.5 trillion to the national debt over the next ten years ($6.2 trillion with interest). To put that in perspective, the debt is now about $20 trillion and rising. About two-thirds of the added debt would come from the corporate tax cuts and one-third from the individual tax cuts.

This creates a dilemma for Republicans, who generally love tax cuts but claim to hate deficits, at least when a Democrat occupies the White House. One way of dealing with that dilemma is to claim that tax cuts pay for themselves by growing the economy. Part of this claim is the standard “trickle-down economics” argument that tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy free up capital that can be used to create jobs. Take the argument a little further and it becomes “supply-side economics,” the idea that tax cuts can generate enough economic growth and new tax revenue to offset the cost of the tax cuts themselves.

However, few economists would go that far. The more mainstream consensus is that economic growth only offsets a portion of the revenue lost through unfunded tax cuts. Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, says that “it seems the administration is using economic growth like magic beans: the cheap solution to all our problems.”

Beyond that, there is the larger argument about how to create jobs. Is the sluggish pace of job creation really due to a lack of capital in the hands of corporations and rich people? With economic inequality in the U.S. already at such a high point, the rich would seem to have plenty of money to invest. And corporations have found ways to make big profits without creating many domestic jobs, especially by offshoring manufacturing and replacing workers with machines.

Maybe our problems of job creation have more to do with the inability of low-wage workers to create growing markets for many goods and services. Maybe the areas in which we could be creating jobs require more public spending, such as on rebuilding infrastructure or making health care and education more affordable. (One thing Obamacare has been doing is creating jobs in healthcare, but another thing the Trump proposal would do is repeal the taxes on higher incomes that mostly pay for it.) The trouble with another tax cut for the wealthy is that it may be worse than economically ineffective; it may deprive government of the fiscal resources it needs to create jobs in a much more direct fashion. Also, the additional borrowing required to offset lost tax revenue could force up interest rates, discouraging such things as borrowing to buy homes.

If the jobs benefits of the tax proposal turn out to be grossly overstated, then it turns out to be what the New York Times called it this morning, “a multitrillion-dollar shift from federal coffers to America’s richest families and their heirs….” This is about the last thing that anyone who claims to be a populist should be doing. If that doesn’t make people wake up and see Donald Trump for what he really is, I don’t know if anything will.