A day after the Republican National Convention stressed how much Donald Trump has done for the little guy, White House economic policy adviser Larry Kudlow bragged on Tuesday about the president’s plans to reduce the capital gains tax and cut still more of the health, labor and environmental rules that guide business conduct.
As a sign that this top-heavy approach was already succeeding, Kudlow pointed to gains to the stock market since March.
“The S&P 500 is up 50 percent from its low in March,” Kudlow said, glossing over the stock index’s more than 1,000-point drop from February to March.
Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, added that, “looking ahead, more tax cuts and regulatory rollback will be in store.”
“Payroll tax cuts for higher wages,” he added, “income tax cuts for the middle class. Capital gains tax cuts for investment, productivity and jobs. Much more regulatory relief for small businesses.”
Analyses of cuts to the capital gains tax have shown that 99% of the benefit would go to the richest 1% of Americans. And an estimated 65% payroll tax cut would benefit the richest 20%.
Those economic policies, which would overwhelmingly benefit the rich, are a stark contrast from the message of the first night of the convention, when speakers stressed that Trump was helping “the little guy” and lowering unemployment rates for the poor and minorities.
Kudlow also charged that, if Joe Biden becomes president, he would massively raise taxes.
“In economic terms, folks, this is no time for a $4 trillion tax hike,” Kudlow said. (Biden has proposed restoring the former income tax rate of 39.6% for individuals making more than $400,000 a year, which had been lowered to 37% under Trump, and raising the capital gains rate to that same percentage.)
“Coming out of the deep pandemic, who in their right mind would pick the pockets of taxpayers and drain the money from their wallets and purses?” Kudlow asked. “Look, our economic choice is very clear: Do you want economic health, prosperity, opportunity and optimism, or do you want to turn back to the dark days of stagnation, recession and pessimism?”
The economy has officially been in a recession since February, and unemployment remains above 10%. But Kudlow seems to think the worst is over.
“It was awful. Health and economic impacts were tragic,” Kudlow said, using the past tense.
Kudlow’s actual remarks strayed from his prepared remarks, where he said of the coronavirus: “We still have a lot of hardship, and we have a lot of heartbreak.”
He ended up dropping that line.
Kudlow, who reminded viewers on Tuesday that he also served in the Reagan administration, is one of the Trump White House’s most devout adherents of the conservative church of trickle-down economics. Trickle-down theory holds that, regardless of the economic problem, the solution always involves cutting taxes for rich people and loosening corporate regulations. In the decades in between White House stints, he spent his days fulminating against taxes and regulations to audiences of Wall Street bankers glued to CNBC’s business-friendly broadcasts.
It’s not particularly surprising then that Kudlow would see cutting taxes on capital gains, which generally benefit the wealthiest slice of Americans, as just the thing for an ailing U.S. economy with yawning inequality.
Capital gains tax cuts, long favored by proponents of trickle-down economics ― sometimes nicknamed Reaganomics ― benefit the wealthy because the types of transactions that are subject to capital gains taxes ― profits earned on the sale of stocks and other financial assets ― are overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of the rich. Though 55% of Americans own some stock, 84% of stocks are owned by the wealthiest 10% of households.
The last time Congress cut capital gains taxes, at the behest of the George W. Bush administration, income inequality and the national debt skyrocketed, while middle-class wages budged only modestly. The super-rich investment class, flush with cash, helped finance a housing bubble that ended up igniting the biggest economic conflagration since the Great Depression.
In a way, though, Kudlow’s speech was a fitting coda to Trump’s disappointing first term as president.
As a presidential candidate, Trump ran as a vanquisher of GOP economic pieties, promising to protect the social safety net and stand up to Wall Street. But he ended up letting people like Kudlow devise his economic policies.
Trump’s biggest legislative achievement was the lopsided 2017 tax cut bill that reduced income taxes, estate taxes and corporate taxes in ways that disproportionately benefited Americans who are already well off. At the time of its passage, the top 1% of earners were projected to reap 80% of the tax savings from the bill in the first decade of it being in effect.