According to the Republicans pushing for its passage, the recent, massive overhaul of the tax code was a “middle-class” tax cut. Yes, they admitted that it bestowed largesse on the wealthy, and yes, they recognized that the benefits to corporate taxpayers dwarfed the pennies that the poor and middle-class will realize, but that, they assured us, was because the GOP is all about job creation. Give corporations tax “relief” (not that most of them had been paying at the going rate) and they would use those dollars to create jobs.
Opponents of the tax bill publicly doubted that corporate savings would be used to create jobs, or to raise pay levels. They predicted that the money would be used instead to buy back stock and “reward” management with bonuses. And they pointed out that the meager tax relief granted to the middle class will phase out, while the corporate cuts are permanent.
Once the bill passed–and the Koch Brothers had donated $500,000 to Paul Ryan (a contribution I’m sure was merely coincidental, despite coming a mere two weeks after the measure was approved)–there was an initial flurry of publicity suggesting that ordinary workers at several large companies had been given bonuses. (It later turned out that those payments went to far fewer workers than the original publicity had suggested.)
Now, it turns out that the cynics were right all along. I know–you’re shocked.
After President Trump signed the Republican tax cut into law, companies put out cheery announcements that they were giving workers bonuses because of their expected windfalls from the tax reductions. The president and Republican lawmakers quickly held up these news releases as vindication for their argument that cutting the top federal corporate tax rate to 21 percent, from 35 percent, would boost workers’ incomes even as it added $1.5 trillion to the debt that future generations would have to pay off.
Now corporate announcements and analyst reports confirm what honest observers always said — this claim is pure fantasy. As executives tell investors what they intend to do with their tax savings and their spending plans are tabulated into neat charts and graphs, the reports jibe with what most experts said would happen: Companies are rewarding their stockholders.
Businesses are buying back shares, which creates demand for the stocks, boosts share prices and benefits investors. Some of the cash is going to increase dividends. And a chunk will go to acquiring other businesses, creating larger corporations that face less competition.
It isn’t just liberal pundits making these claims. Morgan Stanley analysts have estimated that 43 percent of the savings realized by corporations will be used for buybacks and dividends and another 19 percent will fund mergers and acquisitions. They calculate that 17 percent will go into capital investments, and a mere 13 percent will be used for bonuses and raises. CNBC reports that stock buy-backs are at a record pace. Axios has reported that nine pharmaceutical companies have announced $50 billion in buybacks since the tax law was passed.
The open question is whether voters whose paychecks are marginally fatter under the new withholding tables will believe they were the beneficiaries of this “reform,” and whether that belief will influence their votes in November.
As Lincoln said, you can fool some of the people some of the time….