Trump’s tax speech offers debt, new and old falsehoods, and unanswered questions

REUTERS/Eric Thayer
This was Donald Trump on what my fourth-grade teacher used to call “best behavior.”

In Detroit yesterday, Donald Trump unveiled an updated version of his ideas for stimulating the economy, mostly through tax cuts that would explode the deficit.

Here is a transcript. And here is video of Trump delivering the speech.

He read it off a teleprompter, which is unusual, but not unprecedented for Trump, but worth noting because he makes fun of other candidates whom he feels use them too often.

It’s also important to note that his speech represents a complete substitute for – and with countless changes to – the economic plan on which he has been running for the past year. This raises the question of when Trump will lay out the final set of policies he actually intends to pursue, should he win the presidency.

This was Trump on what my fourth-grade teacher used to call “best behavior.” For example, he maintained an even temper, stuck to his script, and waited patiently and calmly while protesters who interrupted him several times were dealt with fairly peacefully by the security team. It’s interesting to at least wonder whether, if he maintains his new improved conduct for a while, the public will start to unremember the Trump we have seen heretofore. Clearly, that is the hope and the plan in Trumpland.

For example, he said that Hillary Clinton, whom he called “the candidate of the past,” supports the status quo of “high taxes” and “radical regulation” that he wants to change. But he never called her his by usual pet name, “Crooked Hilary.” He did not suggest that she should perhaps be thrown in jail, but he said that “every policy she has tilts the playing field in favor of other countries.” His program, by contrast, he called an “America First economic plan.”

Compared to the very low standards of truthfulness, accuracy and completeness to which Trump’s statements and policies have generally been held, this a big leap upward. But his presentation still leaves enormous unanswered questions, puts out a set of new falsehoods, although smaller than usual for Trump, and circled back to some old ones he has used for months.

Basic plan: cut taxes

The basic idea of the new Trump plan is to cut taxes, especially for the wealthy and even more directly for their heirs, since he proposes to completely eliminate the inheritance tax. He relied on the tired Republican trick of calling it a “death tax.”

Even rich people who are lucky enough to remain alive during a Trump presidency will get significant relief on their income tax rates under the new Trump plan, which is why critics have labeled the plan as a repeat of the “trickle-down” or “voodoo economics” approach followed by both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Trump, like many other Republicans, has harshly criticized Obama for the increase in the federal debt that has occurred over the past seven-plus years (although, of course, the gross debt has gone up during all recent presidencies, starting, dramatically, during the Reagan administration. But Trump’s plan, as announced, will add immediately, directly and significantly to the debt if he implements the tax cuts he proposed yesterday. It’s hard to say how much until he supplies more details.

But the good news is that, compared with his previous now-inoperative tax-cut plan, “It seems very likely that this version of the plan will lose less revenue than the last version” because it will contain relatively smaller tax cuts for individuals,” analyst Scott Greenberg of the Tax Foundation told the Washington Post.

Since the old plan was estimated to represent a $10 trillion loss of revenue and – if not offset by massive spending cuts — a potential $10 trillion hike in the U.S. debt, the “good news” isn’t all that good. Trump has often suggested that he would eventually produce ideas for cutting spending that might offset some of that potential new debt, but so far has not made anything close to a coherent proposal along those lines.

Fact-checking the speech

The fact-checkers had no problems finding inaccuracies and holes in the presentation. Here’s the Associated Press fact-check, and, in case you don’t click through for the details, it summarizes its findings thus:

Donald Trump changed some of his facts to fit his agenda Monday, pitching shades of truth and misconceptions in what was billed as a major economic policy speech.

He wrongly accused Hillary Clinton of proposing to increase middle-class taxes and blamed crumbling roads and bridges on money spent on refugees, a minuscule expense in comparison with infrastructure. He overstated the corporate tax burden and declared the jobless rate — the prime statistic for holding leaders accountable for the state of the economy — a hoax.

As far as that last bit, the AP was engaging in understatement. Trump actually called the current measure of slightly less than 5 percent unemployment “one of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics.” This is a theme he has long pounded, but there is almost nothing to it.

How unemployment is measured

The Bureau of Labor Statistics measures unemployment by attempting to measure the number of American adults who are seeking a job but are unable to get one. The current measure uses substantially the same formula, definition and method that has been in use for decades. Trump sometimes speaks as if he thinks children, retirees and full-time homemakers should be counted as unemployed.

The key dispute, if Mr. Trump ever wanted to discuss it rationally, is how to treat those who want to work but have stopped looking for a job because they have become discouraged about their chances. That number is probably higher than usual because of the depth and endurance of the Great Recession (which, Mr. Trump seldom notes, President Obama inherited). But “discouraged” workers have long been left out of the calculation, so using the long-established definition of “unemployed” and method of calculating it hardly seems like “one of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics.”

Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone could have a calm, rational, truth-seeking discussion with Mr. Trump that could stay on-topic and in the realm of facts and logic long enough to explore such matters?

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Pat Berg on 08/09/2016 - 03:35 pm.

    The debates

    I have some hope for the debates.

    The lifespan of the memory of the American public is short and fickle as we all too sadly know. So if good ol’ Don manages somehow to maintain his “Sunday manners” for the next few weeks, it’s entirely possible (in fact, I’m afraid to say, probable) that his numbers will head back up as the public is duped by the “new and improved” model.

    But when it’s face-to-face at the debates, and hopefully under the guidance of moderators who will not let foolishness go unchallenged, he is likely to crack when being directly challenged. Especially considering who the one doing the challenging will be.

    That is my one last hope, I guess. That something will happen to provoke more outlandish and unacceptable responses from him, and that it will happen close enough to the election to preclude any hope of a rebound.

    I just wish I had more faith in the American public. But that’s hard to find in myself considering who’s responsible for who we have sitting in the R corner of the match.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/09/2016 - 06:04 pm.

      Debates?

      I think it’s even money that Trump will find some reason to back out of at least one debate. Imagine him having to answer questions directly, without a crowd of screaming fans to back him up.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/10/2016 - 11:52 am.

        He will still

        reply with something vague and ambiguous, and then switch to something irrelevant.
        And his fans will still lap it up.

  2. Submitted by Max Hailperin on 08/09/2016 - 03:37 pm.

    So much for good behavior

    Sure, yesterday “He did not suggest that she should perhaps be thrown in jail.” But today he suggested that she should perhaps be shot.

  3. Submitted by Tim Smith on 08/09/2016 - 08:58 pm.

    Truth seeking???

    Truth seeking is what you call your obviously biased politically bent diatribes with which you filter every word of your divisive drivel. Then have the absolute audacity to act like you are a deep thinking uniter. Where is your critique of the ever lieing deceiving Hilary? Nothing on her in your columns Mr. Black.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/10/2016 - 12:20 pm.

      Nothing there

      According to fact-checkers, Clinton was the most honest candidate this year – and that includes Bernie Sanders. Trump, however, is a historically dishonest candidate. He has taken lying (or lieing, as you put it) to unprecedented levels.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/10/2016 - 12:28 pm.

      Might have someting to do with

      the fact that all of the fact checkers find that Trump’s blatant lies outnumber Clinton’s by an order of magnitude.

  4. Submitted by Michael Cameron on 08/09/2016 - 10:12 pm.

    Multiple Unemployment Rate Measures

    I wish more people would talk about how the US government does release 6 different measures of unemployment (U1-U6, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t15.htm) with U3 being the most cited. All of them are publicly available and can be used to discuss trends that U3 does not pick up. For instance U6 which counts discouraged workers not looking for working and those not working part time by choice, remained higher for longer, while U3 looked like it was back to normal. It also publishes the labor force participation rate (http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS11300000) which picks up on structural changes that even U6 wouldn’t report.

    None of this is a hoax, you just need to pick one that that makes sense for a particular topic (all of them are meaningful for something). No one number will ever suffice, which is why so many different numbers are published. Plenty of reputable newspapers (Economist, NYTimes, etc) pick up on these less frequently talked about measures and try to have a discussion about them. To act like there’s a conspiracy around the number is to completely ignore all of the other officially published numbers that do offer room for debate about policy responses.

    • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 08/10/2016 - 03:49 pm.

      Hillary Clinton is the policy wonk here, though

      Donald Trump probably couldn’t understand the distinctions you’re making on unemployment rates. Nor would he care. Nor, at this time, do I care about fine points of who’s left the job market to make the unemployment rate look better, or which part of which statistical set which candidate uses.

      America is in the most critical presidential election moment in its history, and you’re talking tiny statistical points on joblessness?

      My bet: Donald Trump will refuse to debate Hillary Clinton directly and before the entire nation. At all. He’s already laying the ground for canceling televised debates that were scheduled a year ago. I mean, we can’t have a presidential debate when there’s a nationally-televised football game, can we?

      If Trump makes up some story to avoid debating a qualified candidate like Clinton, the networks should permit Clinton to answer moderators’ questions for the entire time. Maybe put a Clint Eastwood-style empty lectern where Trump would have stood, to lock in the point that Trump is simply afraid to debate her.

  5. Submitted by joe smith on 08/11/2016 - 08:06 am.

    After 8 years of tax and spend under Obama

    we have the slowest recovery since the 1940’s. As a business man I understand lowering corporate taxes increases the companies ability to grow. I have yet to figure out how raising corporate tax on companies both big and small helps folks get employment. We have lost 10’s of thousands of jobs to other countries where companies can do better financially. We can not compete with the 1 dollar an hour wages for employees but we can have a flat 15% corporate tax (no loopholes for pay to play by huge companies/lobbyists that own our politicians) to make us competitive. Repealing Dodd/Frank (that law has caused the collapse of small banks and credit unions) so small companies can get start up loans, is also needed. Dodd/Frank only helps huge corporations that have funds (through loopholes that were passed by elected officials) to expand. That used to be small business main job, being streamlined to push big business to more efficient. Those days are over with current loaning practices.

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