Awarding Harm

By Bill Mefford

In what is yet another example of this administration’s commitment to either harm or outright buffoonery - and most of the time it is a healthy mixture of both - donald trump will be awarding “economist” Arthur Laffer the Medal of Freedom. The Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award given to individuals who have shown “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” Of course, Laffer has made no contribution except to the affluent and the powerful, which is exactly why he is getting the award.

Laffer is known for the “Laffer Curve” which was drawn by Laffer and shown to then Chief of Staff Dick Cheney in the Ford administration on a napkin in a hotel bar. Ford literally laughed it off because it made no sense (sorry, last Laffer pun). Laffer contended then and still does today that eliminating or dramatically reducing individual and corporate taxes will more than pay for themselves in raised revenue. No economist worth their credentials really believes this - except for Laffer (which is why I put economist in quotations in describing him). Despite mountains of evidence to show the direct opposite of his claims, he continues to be heralded by Republicans who know that lower tax rates helps no one but their donors (and themselves).

The Laffer Curve received national prominence when President Reagan promised the miraculous: tax cuts that would pay for themselves and provide abundance for everyone. In 1981 Reagan signed his tax cuts into law and by 1983 he and Congress were forced to repeal most of the tax cuts because deficits soared, jobs dried up, and recession came back with a vengeance. This is the history no Republican likes to talk about, but Reagan and the Republicans figured out how to force the Laffer tax cuts to work. They knew that solely cutting taxes was not going to solve anything so they proposed massive budget cuts to cover for the enormous deficits.

Of course, slashing the budget has real implications for the most vulnerable. I was in high school and college in the 1980s and it was then that we saw a tremendous increase in the number of homeless people across the country and this was a result of the massive cuts to social services, especially for those suffering from mental illness. The homeless men I got to know in Abilene, TX were the collateral consequences of the Laffer tax cuts. But hey, who cared about the homeless when the rich were getting richer and Reagan promised us that this was what made it “morning in America again?”

The trickle down economics was based entirely on Laffer’s mistaken and harmful ideas that cutting tax rates for rich people and corporations will somehow benefit all people. But this has not worked in the past, does not work now, and will never work. Think about it. Why would corporations allow any of their massive profits to leak out and benefit anyone but themselves? There is no trickle down and there is no miraculous revenue stream from tax cuts that benefits all people, creates jobs, and pays for crucial budget items. Something always has to give and for Republicans, the thing that they seem not just willing to sacrifice, but even eager to do so, are programs that benefit poor people.

Just look at Kansas. When Sam Brownback became Governor in 2010 he promised to do something Kansas hadn’t seen in generations and boy, did he. He promised massive tax cuts which would give the Kansas economy a shot in the arm it needed; the tax cuts would increase revenue and create jobs. Spoiler alert: the tax cuts did just the opposite. As the Atlantic went on to report, by early 2017, Kansas had "nine rounds of budget cuts over four years, three credit downgrades, missed state payments", and to try and make ends meet, Kansas lawmakers tapped into state reserves set aside for future spending, postponed construction projects and pension contributions, and cut Medicaid benefits.

Real people were hurt because of a belief in an idea that has no merit.

And Republicans continue this ridiculous idea today. They passed the trump tax cuts last year and already lower income and lower middle class people are feeling the squeeze. Unemployment rates are low, but people are often working two and three jobs to cover their own budgets. And almost immediately after the trump tax cuts were passed, what’s the next item up for business according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell? He promised to cut the deficit by “reforming” entitlement programs. That’s DC-speak for gutting Medicare and Medicare and Social Security.

This is what the Laffer tax cuts have boiled down to: enriching the powerful and affluent while intentionally hurting the poor and vulnerable. So, when the trump administration puts people in charge of agencies that they have publicly opposed like Perry with the Department of Energy, Davos with the Department of Education, and Pruitt with the EPA (to name just three), and when trump promises to focus on the forgotten people like farmers and then implements tariffs that are having devastating impacts on farmers (and others), then giving the Medal of Freedom to a guy like Arthur Laffer whose ideas have created so much misery and captivity to generational poverty for so many millions of people, I guess that’s just par for the course.

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