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The Destruction of the Middle Class Through Tax Policy

After WWII the US entered a phase of great shared prosperity. The tax code was responsible for that. Corporate tax rates at the end of World War II topped out at 90%. The results of this was that every corporation plowed as much of their profits as possible back into the corporation through hiring employees and investment in new equipment in order to show as little profits as possible to the IRS. That is what drove the incredible growth of the 50s and 60s. Since then the tax burden has been shifted by small increments from the corporations and the wealthy on to the working class.

The destruction of the American middle class started with a cultural vanguard setting the intellectual tone (“all taxation is theft”, Ayn Rand, etc.). In the 1960s the pro-corporatists founded magazines and institutes to spread their ideology. At that point they still hoped to roll back the New Deal. By the 1980s the movement was ascendant and started changing the rules of the game (tax code rewrite, regulatory rollback). By then¬†business schools were pushing the ideology that only shareholders matter, and anything that drives up stock prices is good. Prior to that corporations were understood to serve a public good, and managers were trained that they served multiple constituencies (employees, customers, and, yes, shareholders too). But by the 1980s (greed is good) the corporate elite was on full-on self-enrichment mode. CEO pay started to get linked to stock price (to better align the interests of management with shareholders) and – with a little manipulation – CEO’s started making tens and then hundreds of millions of dollars per year – often by drastically cutting headcount, outsourcing jobs, slashing R&D, selling off real estate and other assets and then leasing them back – all ways to juice earnings in the short term and drive up stock prices. (Ironically most of the long-term results of such moves are the eventual failure of the company, but the CEO’s keep their bonuses: witness IBM and GE as two examples). And that is not even getting into what Romney did at Bain. At this point in 2018 we are in the full-on FU phase of capitalism, with the top 5% owning 80% of the financial assets in the country, and their well-paid surrogates arguing constantly that the country spends to much on social programs and that the rich are horribly overtaxed.

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