Small Wars Journal

Plutocratic Insurgency Note No. 9: Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—Class Warfare ‘Red Line’ Crossed

Share this Post

Plutocratic Insurgency Note No. 9: Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—Class Warfare ‘Red Line’ Crossed

Robert J. Bunker, Nils Gilman, John P. Sullivan and Pamela Ligouri Bunker

“There’s class warfare, all right,” Mr. Buffett said, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we're winning.”

                                                                   Warren Buffett, November 2006[1]

“Actually, there’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years, and my class has won. We’re the ones that have gotten our tax rates reduced dramatically.”

                                                                   Warren Buffett, September 2011[2]

The prophetic words of Warren Buffett—of Berkshire Hathaway fame and one of the richest persons in the United States—resound like a ‘double-tap’ to the skull of the American middle class after the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has now passed in the US Senate.[3] The social contract between the governed and the government, which is derived from the consent of the people and conveys legitimacy to our political system, is becoming increasingly imperiled. Not only in this Bill have the taxes of the rich once again been reduced but to offset this plutocratic economic boon the taxes of the middle class have been brazenly raised to subsidize it:

By 2027, people making $40,000 to $50,000 would pay a combined $5.3 billion more in taxes, while the group earning $1 million or more would get a $5.8 billion cut, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office.[4]

The vast majority of the US populace—the proverbial 99%—just witnessed the blatant crossing of a class warfare ‘red line’ to the benefit of the American plutocracy—that other 1% (or .01% depending on your metrics) which increasingly holds most of the wealth in our society. The ‘pluto-populist’ political rhetoric concerning how this tax plan really benefits the other 99% of US citizens ranks as one of Western history’s worst class relations marketing campaigns—possibly only surpassed by the Ancien Régime’s disastrous cake-making tips series offered up to late 18th century French peasants.

Key Information: Katrina vanden Heuvel, “Republican tax bills would be paradise for plutocrats.” Washington Post. 14 November 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/republican-tax-bills-would...f9f8-c8e7-11e7-b0cf-7689a9f2d84e_story.html?utm_term=.70bd42e8c122:

The Paradise Papers—the trove of 13.4 million documents leaked largely from the files of Appleby, a Bermuda-based law firm—detail the many ways the biggest corporations and richest individuals use tax havens to avoid taxes, obscure ownership and hide financial transactions. Reporters have only just begun to comb through the documents, but two things are already clear: First, Leona Helmsley was right when she famously said, “Only the little people pay taxes.” Second, the Republican tax bills are built around a very big and shameless lie.

The revelations show once again that the very wealthy of many countries—particularly the United States—and the largest global corporations don’t pay taxes like the rest of us. They use sophisticated law firms and accountants to set up shell companies, private trusts and other dodges to avoid high taxes. Millionaires and billionaires of all ideological stripes—reactionaries like the Koch brothers and Robert Mercer, major Republican donors like Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson, liberal donors like George Soros and Penny Pritzker, Trump officials like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and economic adviser Gary Cohn, Russian oligarchs like Leonid Mikhelson, celebrities like Bono and Madonna and even Queen Elizabeth II—use offshore companies, obscure ownership arrangements and elaborate trusts to avoid taxes. Global companies like Apple, Nike, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase and Uber avoid literally billions in taxes…

Key Information: Derek Thompson, “Why the GOP Tax Bill Is So Unpopular.” The Atlantic. 25 November 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/11/gop-tax-bill-unpopular/546668/:

President Donald Trump says he doesn’t want to cut taxes on the rich. His Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he doesn’t want to cut taxes on the rich. The Democratic Party says they don’t want to cut taxes on the rich. Americans say they don’t want to cut taxes on the rich.

The House and Senate Republican tax bills are taking a different approach: They are cutting taxes on the rich—significantly. Their plans would slash the corporate tax rate by almost half, cut taxes on pass-through income for smaller businesses, eliminate the Alternate Minimum Tax, and erode the estate tax, all of which disproportionately help rich families. This comes at a time when post-tax corporate profits as a share of GDP have hovered at a record-high level for the last seven years, and the top 1 percent’s share of total income is higher than any time in the second half of the 20th century…

Key Information: Heather Long, “As tax bill evolved, benefits for corporations and the wealthy grew.” Standard-Examiner. 1 December 2017, http://www.standard.net/Business/2017/12/02/As-tax-bill-evolved-benefits-for-corporations-and-the-wealthy-grew-1:

When Senate Republicans introduced their tax bill in mid-November, they faced competing interests: Some senators thought it wasn’t generous enough for working-class families. Others thought it didn’t deliver enough to business owners.

By late Friday evening, as the Senate headed toward a vote on the bill, it had undergone a series of transformations. The bill had fewer benefits for working-class families than the original version. And it had new benefits for business owners.

The disparate treatment underlined how the legislation—a massive rewrite of the individual and corporate tax code—has evolved since its first incarnation: What began as an effort that would favor the wealthy and corporations became, in many ways, even more tilted in their favor as the legislation.

When lawmakers needed a way to limit the legislation’s impact on the deficit to make it comply with Senate rules, they made the bill’s tax cuts affecting individuals temporary—ending in 2025—while leaving in place ones that benefit corporations. The move would lead to a tax hike on many Americans in the middle of the next decade…

Key Information: Martin Wolf,A Republican tax plan built for plutocrats.” Financial Times. 2 December 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/e494f47e-ce1a-11e7-9dbb-291a884dd8c6:

How does a political party dedicated to the material interests of the top 0.1 per cent of the income distribution win and hold power in a universal suffrage democracy? That is the challenge confronting the Republican party. The answer it has found is “pluto-populism”. This is a politically successful, but dangerous, strategy. It has brought Donald Trump to the presidency. His failure might bring someone more dangerous, more determined, to power. This matters to the US and, given its power, to the wider world.

The tax bills going through Congress demonstrate the party’s primary objectives. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in the House version of the bill, about 45 per cent of the tax reductions in 2027 would go to households with incomes above $500,000 (fewer than 1 per cent of filers) and 38 per cent to households with incomes over $1m (about 0.3 per cent of filers). In the more cautious Senate version, households with incomes below $75,000 would be worse off. This simply is reform for plutocrats…

Key Information: The Editorial Board, “A Historic Tax Heist.” New York Times. 2 December 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/02/opinion/editorials/a-historic-tax-heist.html:

With barely a vote to spare early Saturday morning, the Senate passed a tax bill confirming that the Republican leaders’ primary goal is to enrich the country’s elite at the expense of everybody else, including future generations who will end up bearing the cost. The approval of this looting of the public purse by corporations and the wealthy makes it a near certainty that President Trump will sign this or a similar bill into law in the coming days.

The bill is expected to add more than $1.4 trillion to the federal deficit over the next decade, a debt that will be paid by the poor and middle class in future tax increases and spending cuts to Medicare, Social Security and other government programs. Its modest tax cuts for the middle class disappear after eight years. And up to 13 million people stand to lose their health insurance because the bill makes a big change to the Affordable Care Act.

Yet Republicans somehow found a way to give a giant and permanent tax cut to corporations like Apple, General Electric and Goldman Sachs, saving those businesses tens of billions of dollars…

Key Information: David Weigel, Robert Costa and Paul Kane, “‘This is class warfare’: Tax vote sparks political brawl over populism that will carry into 2018 elections.” Washington Post. 2 December 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/this-is-class-warfare-tax-vote-sparks-political-brawl-over-populism-that-will-carry-into-2018-elections/2017/12/02/c8e2ccdc-d762-11e7-b62d-d9345ced896d_story.html?utm_term=.d19a7413bae4:

DAYTON, Ohio—The Senate Republicans’ chaotic late-night vote Friday to overhaul the tax system widened the country’s partisan divisions Saturday—sparking a political grudge match that lawmakers vowed to carry into next year’s midterm elections. Democrats, united in their opposition, attacked the legislation as a “scam” passed to benefit wealthy donors and corporations.

Republicans, promising years of wage and job growth once the bill becomes law, acknowledged that they face a difficult task convincing voters to have faith in a measure that received support from the GOP alone…

Several at-risk Democrats, including Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.), recorded viral videos to dramatize how late the bill had been printed, and how some revisions had been written in hard-to-read pen scratches.

“Take a look at this, folks. This is your government at work,” Tester said, slamming his fist on the bill. “It’s going to shift money from middle-class families to the rich, and we were given it 20 minutes ago”…

Key Information: John Cassidy, “The Passage of the Senate Republican Bill was a Travesty.” The New Yorker. 2 December 2017, https://www.newyorker.com/sections/news/the-passage-of-the-senate-republican-tax-bill-was-a-travesty:

When historians write about the broader atrophy of the American system of governance, the passage of the 2017 tax-reform bill will be an illuminating event to dwell upon. Whatever the Founding Fathers had in mind, it surely can’t have resembled the unedifying spectacle that played out in the Senate this week. When the delayed vote on the Senate version of the G.O.P’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act finally took place, in the early hours of Saturday morning, the sole Republican to dissent was Senator Bob Corker, of Tennessee…

The last-minute haggling and rewriting resulted in a bill even more skewed toward the rich. To buy the votes of Senators Steve Daines, of Montana, and Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin, the G.O.P. leadership agreed to further sweeten the pot for owners of unincorporated businesses who declare their profits as “pass through” income on their personal tax returns. Although Daines and Johnson claimed that they were trying to help owners of small businesses, the fact is that the richest one per cent of households receive more than half of all the pass- through income the economy generates. Donald Trump, who owns dozens of pass-through ventures, is a member of this group, and as a result of the bill he could see his marginal tax rate reduced from 39.6 per cent to below thirty per cent.

As tax experts raced through the final text, they discovered other giveaways to the one per cent—indeed, to the 0.001 per cent. They included the retention of the infamous carried-interest deduction, which allows hedge-fund managers and private-equity tycoons to pay a lower tax rate on their profits than the one many middle-class families face…

Who: Components of the US Congress and Senate—essentially, these in the Republican party—emphasizing a free and unregulated market economy, big business, and multinational corporate profits—which are in line with de facto plutocratic economic interests. 

What: Fiscal Year 2018 H.R.1 - Tax Cuts and Jobs Act amendments and repeals to the 1986 Internal Revenue Code. Last minute additions to the Bill were hand written on it and virtually illegible. Further, almost no time was provided for those voting on the Bill to actually read it with the vote passing as a political fait accompli—albeit by the slimmest Senate margin possible.

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

“The final text of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was delivered to Democrats on Friday just hours before an expected final vote on the bill. But Democratic lawmakers said it was nearly unreadable, with handwritten notes in the margin outlining some of the tweaks.”[5]

When: The time period is primarily from 2 November 2017 with the introduction of the Bill in the House, the House passing of the Bill on 16 November 2017, and through to the passing of the Bill in the Senate on 2 December 2017. The Bill is presently in the resolving differences phase between its House and Senate versions.    

Where: Within the United States of America concerning the US Tax Code with direct impact on taxation of overseas individual, trust, and corporate earnings.     

Why: The recent co-option of the Republican Party stemming from the emergence of “pluto-populism”[6]—the synthesis of what might be benevolently defined as “A political movement in which a wealthy individual offers ideas and policies that appeal to the common person.”[7] Within the contemporary context the application of pluto-populism is far darker and represents a variant of free market authoritarianism—an emerging form of post-World II neo-fascism in which a democratically elected leader views him or herself as ‘above the law because they are the law.’[8] Such a position of executive privilege is beginning to become uncomfortably close to the authoritarian approach to governance embodied in Louis XIV—the Sun King of France—when he said ‘L'etat c'est moi’ (‘I am the state’).                

Presidential Plutocratic Retreat—Mar-a-Lago

 “Trump’s weekend sojourns, which Politico has estimated cost taxpayers $3 million per trip, have caused Mar-a-Lago membership fees to double from $100,000 to $200,000, as America’s wealthy clamors for a seat at, or at least near, the table.”[9]

Analysis

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (aka the 2017 Federal Tax Bill) signals a significant milepost in the analysis of ‘plutocratic insurgency” with potential ramifications echoing a return to economic conditions last seen in The Gilded Age with the accelerating prospects of class warfare. The Gilded Age was characterized by unfettered capitalism, conspicuous consumption, extreme income inequality, and rampant corruption. The beneficiaries were a small plutocratic class that benefited from profiteering and a lack of regulation that allowed them to concentrate wealth in hands of a few. Typically, that small class is known as the 1 percent, but within that economic elite a significant proportion of wealth was—and is once again—concentrated in the hands of the top 1 percent (in 2012 that cohort included about 160,000 families with a net worth above $20.6 million.[10] The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, if enacted, will benefit that small class by redistributing a substantial redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the highest income cohorts; and, as Alan Krueger, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers told the New York Times, “the proposal would also deepen and further entrench existing class divisions and reduce economic mobility.”[11]

Indeed, currently 40 percent of US wealth is concentrated in the hands of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans with that cohort owning more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. That gap has been growing in recent decades and the 2017 Federal Tax Bill will exacerbate those inequities, giving the greatest tax cuts to the super rich while the poorest will face actual tax increase over the long-term.[12]

The 2017 US Federal Tax Bill, which as of this writing is currently undergoing reconciliation between the House and Senate versions, represents in significant ways the principles of plutocratic insurgency. Or rather, more accurately, it represents an opening volley in what looks likely to be a plutocratic insurgency campaign set to last for as long as the GOP controls both chambers of Congress as well the White House.

While the details remain to be worked out, the bill most certainly does not represent tax “reform” in the way that the term has most usually been used in Washington. “Reform” measures have typically centered on three core ideas: lowering the top rates, broadening the tax base, and simplifying the code. The first two measures are broadly speaking regressive (or at least de-progressive) while the latter mainly entails closing special interest loopholes of one sort or another.

The 2017 tax bill, however, does little of this. While the Senate version of the bill slightly lowers the top marginal personal income (from 39.6 percent to 38.5 percent) tax rate, the main focus of both versions of the bill has been on dramatically lowering the corporate tax rate (from 35 percent to 20 percent), as well as on making it easier for certain kinds of partnerships to constitute themselves as corporations eligible for these rates. The net effect is that many rich individuals will effectively reclassify their earnings as corporate earnings, thus dramatically lowering their marginal tax rates. This is why, over the next ten years, the vast majority of the tax savings (about 80 percent, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center)[13] will go to the top 1 percent of earners—in other words, to plutocrats.

To make up for the shortfall, various alternative revenue enhancing schemes have been proposed, all of which have been carefully targeted to primarily affect blue states and heavily demographic constituencies—for example, targeting private university endowments and graduate students for heavy tax increases, as well as industries and earners concentrated in blue states. On a superficial level, this represents not so much ideology as a kind of political vengeance by way of the tax code.

Political daggers aside, in what sense can this bill be said to represent the plutocratic insurgency in action? We believe there are four elements to this:

• First, this bill represents a dramatic realization of the dream of plutocratic insurgents in United States to shield themselves from having to contribute financially to the country and its public goods. The bill either drastically scales back or abolishes the estate tax, something that only affects the largest 0.2 percent of estates in the United States—i.e. plutocrats.[14] By enabling many more high earners to reclassify their businesses as “pass through corporations,” moreover, it will enable many members of the 1 percent to pay only about half of what they would as top individual earners. As such, it represents the further secession of plutocratic insurgents from any sense of shared economic fate with their fellow citizens.

• Second, the tax bill contains a number of new deductions and special interest loopholes which are specifically designed to benefit the plutocrats. One that has received particular notoriety has been the deduction for maintenance costs on the ultimate symbol of plutocratic insurgency, namely private jets. Likewise, the carried interest loophole survived, allowing private equity managers, hedge fund managers, and real estate investors to pay the lower capital gains rate (20 percent) on their income rather than the top personal income tax rate (38.5 percent). And of course, in a nod to the President, the bill contains plenty of breaks for golf course owners and real estate developers.[15]

• Third, one of the main sources of backfill for the revenues that will be lost by lowering the tax rates that plutocrats pay is the abolition and/or capping of the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT). SALT deductions have been standard ever since the federal income tax was first imposed. However, this measure in effect punishes taxpayers in states where real estate is very expensive (and therefore property taxes are high) as well as states with significant income taxes. States with high income taxes—such as California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York—are, not coincidentally, states that also tend to offer relatively generous social welfare packages to their less fortunate residents. The Republicans have been explicit that the goal in eliminating the SALT deduction is to punish states that choose to tax their citizens. In effect, they are trying to pressure blue states to lower their tax rates—which will all but inevitably force them also to cut the public benefits and social services they offer their residents. In other words, it is an effort by the legislative handmaidens of the plutocratic insurgency to force the blue states become more like the low-tax, low-welfare providing red states.

• But the fourth and most important way in which the tax bill is a representative product of the plutocratic insurgency is that it presages the slashing of the core pillars of the welfare state. While the GOP has gamely claimed that the tax bill would not increase the deficit because of all the growth it was going to create (a claim roundly denied by all nonpartisan experts),[16] if the tax bill in fact ends up creating a huge new set of deficits, from the perspective of plutocratic insurgents, this will be not a bug but a feature, as it will provide the GOP controlled government with the lever they need to cut the entitlement programs they’ve had in their gun sights for a generation. Indeed, as the New York Times has reported, the tax bill seems expressly designed to add to the debt in a manner that will then trigger automatic cuts to Medicare and other entitlement programs.[17] The bottom line is that the 2017 tax bill seems expressly designed to break the fiscal camel’s back in a way that will enable and indeed mandate the rollback of the welfare state that the GOP has dreamed about since the 1980s.

That taking a plutocratic machete to the welfare state is the ultimate agenda is not in doubt. Literally, before the scribbles in the margins of the deficit-exploding tax bill were dry, the stewards of the plutocratic insurgency on Capitol Hill were already declaring that the huge deficit to come would require gashing cuts to the welfare state. “You also have to bring spending under control,” said Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) even before the vote on the tax bill was final. “And not discretionary spending. That isn’t the driver of our debt. The driver of our debt is the structure of Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries.”[18] “We’re spending ourselves into bankruptcy,” declared Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G.  Hatch (R-Utah) the same day. “Let’s just be honest about it: We’re in trouble. This country is in deep debt. You don’t help the poor by not solving the problems of debt, and you don’t help the poor by continually pushing more and more liberal programs through.”[19] 

Clearly, the radical redistribution of income is being accelerated by a concerted effort to enact a revised tax structure that favors the richest at the expense of the middle class and poor. This looks like class warfare to many—especially the political opposition.[20] Many Americans share that view with 52 percent of voters opposing the tax plan and 59 percent viewing it as benefiting the wealthy at the expense of the middle class according to a November Quinnipiac Poll.[21] Redistributing wealth and favoring the interests of the top income cohorts (the 1 percent or the 0.1 percent) relies on a strategy of ‘pluto-populism.’ That strategy— derived from a bizarre synthesis of cliental from Tiffany and Dollar General (who come from vastly different existences)—replaces income equity with identity politics and a loathing for the regulatory institutions of the state. 

As the Federal deficit grows, the pressures to cut government spending and benefits increase the likelihood of a severe backlash.  Reducing spending on health and social security is one prospect to sustain this redistribution of income from the lower and middle classes to the hyper-rich (with the top 1 percent through 0.1 to 0.001 percent reaping the greatest increases in annual real income growth).[22] The current tax plan is likely to accelerate economic insecurity for the masses while ensuring hyper-wealth for the gilded, plutocratic elite.  Income inequality combined with class and racial tensions are likely to influence political instability if left unchecked.  This in turn, challenges the stability of states and can lead to a violent competition for resources characterized by class warfare with a potential for actual insurrection.

Whether the project to roll back Medicare, Social Security, Obamacare, and the other major welfare entitlements succeeds remains to be seen. Both the GOP and the current resident of the White House are plumbing unprecedented depths of unpopularity, perhaps auguring not just a wave election in 2018, but perhaps an even more fundamental realignment of the party system in the United States, whose institutional foundations are crumbling before our eyes. We live in a time of profound political uncertainty. Meanwhile, the plutocratic insurgents seem intent on clearing out the shelves in the store before the hurricane rolls in. Whether they will be able to build their private sea walls high enough to hold back the political storm surge remains to be seen.

Sources

John Cassidy, “The Passage of the Senate Republican Bill was a Travesty.” The New Yorker. 2 December 2017, https://www.newyorker.com/sections/news/the-passage-of-the-senate-republican-tax-bill-was-a-travesty.

The Editorial Board, “A Historic Tax Heist.” New York Times. 2 December 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/02/opinion/editorials/a-historic-tax-heist.html.

Katrina vanden Heuvel, “Republican tax bills would be paradise for plutocrats.” Washington Post. 14 November 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/republican-tax-bills-would...f9f8-c8e7-11e7-b0cf-7689a9f2d84e_story.html?utm_term=.70bd42e8c122.

Heather Long, “As tax bill evolved, benefits for corporations and the wealthy grew.” Standard-Examiner. 1 December 2017, http://www.standard.net/Business/2017/12/02/As-tax-bill-evolved-benefits-for-corporations-and-the-wealthy-grew-1.

Derek Thompson, “Why the GOP Tax Bill Is So Unpopular.” The Atlantic. 25 November 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/11/gop-tax-bill-unpopular/546668/.

David Weigel, Robert Costa and Paul Kane, “‘This is class warfare’: Tax vote sparks political brawl over populism that will carry into 2018 elections.” Washington Post. 2 December 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/this-is-class-warfare-tax-vote-sparks-political-brawl-over-populism-that-will-carry-into-2018-elections/2017/12/02/c8e2ccdc-d762-11e7-b62d-d9345ced896d_story.html?utm_term=.d19a7413bae4.

Martin Wolf,A Republican tax plan built for plutocrats.” Financial Times. 2 December 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/e494f47e-ce1a-11e7-9dbb-291a884dd8c6.

End Notes

[1] Ben Stein, “In Class Warfare, Guess Which Class Is Winning.” New York Times. 26 November 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/26/business/yourmoney/26every.html.

[2] Greg Sargent, “‘There’s been class warfare for the last 20 years, and my class has won.’” Washington Post. 30 September 2011, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/theres-been-class-warfare-for-the-last-20-years-and-my-class-has-won/2011/03/03/gIQApaFbAL_blog.html?utm_term=.d05003b35141.

[3] This note was completed in early December prior to the approval of the final version of the bill by the Senate on 20 December 2017. See Deirdre Walsh et. al., “White House, GOP celebrate passing sweeping tax bill.” CNN. 20 December 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/12/20/politics/house-senate-trump-tax-bill/index.html.

  [4] Peter S. Goodman and Patricia Cohen, “It started as a tax cut, now it could change American life.” New York Times. 29 November 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/29/business/republican-tax-cut.html.

[5] Bob Bryan, “The final tax bill Democrats got from Republicans is covered in handwritten notes — and senators are complaining it's unreadable.” Business Insider. 1 December 2017, http://www.businessinsider.com/gop-senate-tax-reform-bill-final-version-text-trump-2017-12.

[6] “Leader: The rise of pluto-populism.” The New Statesman. 20 July 2016, https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/observations/2016/07/leader-rise-pluto-populism.

[7] “Pluto-populism—New Word Suggestion.” Collins Dictionary. 26 July 2016, https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/submission/17704/pluto-populism.

[8] Sari Horwitz and Philip Rucker, “A bold new legal defense for Trump: Presidents cannot obstruct justice.” Washington Post. 4 December 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/a-bold-new-legal-defense-for-trump-presidents-cannot-obstruct-justice/2017/12/04/b95cb262-d91c-11e7-a841-2066faf731ef_story.html?utm_term=.3a45b96cf187.

[9] Christopher Hooton, “Mar-a-Lago: Questions about membership applications since Trump elected are ‘inappropriate’, says resort.” Independent. 9 March 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/mar-a-lago-donald-trump-florida-weekends-membership-members-list-cost-club-a7621051.html.

[10] See “Back to a Gilded Era,” table detailing share of household wealth in the U.S., 1913-2013 based on data from Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, National Bureau of Economic Research in Thomas B. Edsall, “Republicans Wonder How to Make the Rich Richer.” New York Times. 9 November 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/09/opinion/republican-tax-bill.html.

[11] In Thomas B. Edsall, “Republicans Wonder How to Make the Rich Richer.” New York Times. 9 November 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/09/opinion/republican-tax-bill.html.

[12] Christopher Ingraham, “The richest 1 percent now owns more of the country’s wealth than at any time in the past 50 years.” Washington Post. 6 December 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/12/06/the-richest-1-percent-now-owns-more-of-the-countrys-wealth-than-at-any-time-in-the-past-50-years/?utm_term=.5bd5b5f05548.

[13] Jeff Stein, “Ryan says Republicans to target welfare, Medicare, Medicaid spending in 2018.” Washington Post.  6 December 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/12/01/gop-eyes-post-tax-cut-changes-to-welfare-medicare-and-social-security/?utm_term=.6f69cab7c359.

[14] Chye-Ching Huang and Chloe Cho, “Ten Facts You Should Know About the Federal Estate Tax.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 30 October 2017, https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/12/with-tax-cuts-on-the-line-flake-suddenly-decides-to-trust-trump.

[15] Dan Wilchins  and Prashant Gopal, “One Tax Loophole Untouched So Far: The Trump Golf-Course Break.” Bloomberg. 9 November 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-09/one-tax-loophole-untouched-so-far-the-trump-golf-course-break.

[16] The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation claimed the Senate version of the bill would increase the debt by $160B over the next decade. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office claimed it would be $140B. Even with “dynamic scoring”—i.e. modeling the additional revenues that will come from the additional growth which supposedly will materialize as a result of the tax cut—all of the nonpartisan experts expect an increase of at least a trillion dollars in debt over the next decade. “Under Dynamic Scoring, House Tax Bill Still Explodes the Debt.” Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. 8 November 2017, http://www.crfb.org/blogs/under-dynamic-scoring-house-tax-bill-still-explodes-debt. There is strong reason to believe that if anything this will be an underestimate, since it is highly likely that some of the additional revenue enhancements that the federal government is expecting, for example from closing the SALT deductions will not materialize, as blue states change their revenue mix away from income taxes and over to payroll taxes, which addition to being regressive and growth-retarding, will also mean less revenues flowing to the federal government.

[17] Margot Sanger-Katz, “The Tax Bill’s Automatic Spending Cuts.” New York Times. 29 November 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/29/upshot/paygo-medicare-cuts-tax-bill.

[18] Jeff Stein, “Ryan says Republicans to target welfare, Medicare, Medicaid spending in 2018.” Note 9.

[19] Bess Levin, “With Tax Cuts on the Line, Flake, Suddenly Decides to Trust Trump.” Vanity Fair. 1 December 2017, https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/12/with-tax-cuts-on-the-line-flake-suddenly-decides-to-trust-trump.

[20] Alex Roarty, “Dems warn GOP: We’re prepared for class war.” Sacramento Bee. 5 December 2017, http://www.sacbee.com/news/article188065154.html.

[21] “Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Voters Reject GOP Tax Plan 2-1.” Quinnipiac University/Poll. 15 November 2017, https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=2501.

[22] The average annual real income growth for all in the US from 1980-2014 is roughly 1.5%, the top 1 percent’s growth is roughly 2.2%, the top 0.1 percent’s roughly 3.2%, the top 0.01 percent about 4.4%, and the top 0.001 percent’s growth 6% according to the table “To those who have” with data from Piketty, Saez & Zucman in Martin Wolf, “A Republican tax plan built for plutocrats.” Financial Times. 21 November 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/e494f47e-ce1a-11e7-9dbb-291a884dd8c6.

Additional Reading

Larry M. Bartels, Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016.

Ronald F. Formisano, Plutocracy in America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015.

Chrystia Freeland, Plutocrats. New York: The Penguin Press, 2012.

Denis L. Gilbert, The American Class Structure in an Age of Growing Inequality. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2014.

Thomas Piketty (Arthur Goldhammer, Trans.), Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Harvard: Belknap Press, 2014.

David Rothkopf, Superclass. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2008.

Thomas Piketty (Arthur Goldhammer, Trans.), The Economics of Inequality. Harvard: Belknap Press, 2015.

All opinions are strictly those of the authors and in no way reflect the viewpoints of any US governmental, academic, or corporate entity.

About the Author(s)

Dr. Nils Gilman is Vice President of Programs at the Berggruen Institute. From 2013 to 2017 he served as Associate Chancellor and Chief of Staff to the Chancellor at U.C. Berkeley, and as the Founding Executive Director of Social Science Matrix, Berkeley’s flagship interdisciplinary social science research center. Earlier in this career, he worked as a research director and scenario planning consultant at the Monitor Group and Global Business Network, and in software companies such as Salesforce.com and BEA Systems. He is the author of Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America (2004), Deviant Globalization: Black Market Economy in the 21st Century (2011), the Sidney Award-winning essay, "The Twin Insurgency," (The American Interest, 2014) as well as numerous other articles on intellectual history and political economy. He holds a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in History from U.C. Berkeley.

Pamela Ligouri Bunker is a researcher and analyst specializing in international security and terrorism and is a past senior officer of the Counter-OPFOR Corporation. She holds undergraduate degrees in anthropology-geography and social sciences from California State Polytechnic University Pomona, an M.A. in public policy from the Claremont Graduate University, and an M.Litt. in terrorism studies from the University of Saint Andrews, Scotland. She is co-editor of Global Criminal and Sovereign Free Economies and the Demise of the Western Democracies: Dark Renaissance (Routledge, 2015) and has published many other referred and professional works.

John P. Sullivan was a career police officer. He retired as a lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He is also an adjunct researcher at the Vortex Foundation in Bogotá, Colombia; a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Global Observatory of Transnational Criminal Networks; a senior research fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies on Terrorism (CAST); a Global Fellow at Stratfor (2018); and an instructor at the Safe Communities Institute at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. He is co-editor of Countering Terrorism and WMD: Creating a Global Counter-Terrorism Network (Routledge, 2006) and Global Biosecurity: Threats and Responses (Routledge, 2010) and co-author of Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency: A Small Wars Journal-El Centro Anthology (iUniverse, 2011) Studies in Gangs and Cartels (Routledge, 2013). Most recently he co-edited The Rise of The Narcostate (Mafia States) (Xlibris, 2018). He completed the CREATE Executive Program in Counter-Terrorism at the University of Southern California and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the College of William and Mary, a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs and Policy Analysis from the New School for Social Research, and a PhD from the Open University of Catalonia (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya) in Barcelona. His doctoral thesis was “Mexico’s Drug War: Cartels, Gangs, Sovereignty and the Network State.” His current research focus is the impact of transnational organized crime on sovereignty in Mexico and other countries.

Dr. Robert J. Bunker is an Adjunct Research Professor, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College and Adjunct Faculty, Division of Politics and Economics, Claremont Graduate University. He holds university degrees in political science, government, social science, anthropology-geography, behavioral science, and history and has undertaken hundreds of hours of counterterrorism training. Past professional associations include Distinguished Visiting Professor and Minerva Chair at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College; Futurist in Residence, Training and Development Division, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Quantico, VA; Staff Member (Consultant), Counter-OPFOR Program, National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center-West; and Adjunct Faculty, National Security Studies M.A. Program and Political Science Department, California State University, San Bernardino, CA. Dr. Bunker has hundreds of publications including Studies in Gangs and Cartels, with John Sullivan (Routledge, 2013),  Red Teams and Counterterrorism Training, with Stephen Sloan (University of Oklahoma, 2011), and edited works, including Global Criminal and Sovereign Free Economies and the Demise of the Western Democracies: Dark Renaissance (Routledge, 2014), co-edited with Pamela Ligouri Bunker; Criminal Insurgencies in Mexico and the Americas: The Gangs and Cartels Wage War (Routledge, 2012); Narcos Over the Border: Gangs, Cartels and Mercenaries (Routledge, 2011); Criminal-States and Criminal-Soldiers (Routledge, 2008); Networks, Terrorism and Global Insurgency (Routledge, 2005); and Non-State Threats and Future Wars (Routledge, 2002).