By Sahid Fawaz
Policy issues like health care and tax reform have made the news many times over during the first seven months of the Trump presidency.
Noble Prize winner Paul Krugman argues, however, that the real threat to American workers comes from policy decisions that likely fall under the media’s radar.
He explains in his most recent column:
“According to the Congressional Budget Office, back in 1980 the top 1 percent paid 33 percent of its income in federal taxes. Under Reagan, that share briefly fell below 25 percent. But as of 2013, the most recent year covered, Obama’s tax hikes had brought federal taxes on the 1 percent back up to 34 percent of income.
What about safety net programs? Some were savagely cut — but others have grown, a lot. Take Medicaid, which in 1980 covered only 7 percent of nonelderly Americans. Today that number is up to 21 percent.
Looking only at taxing and spending, then, one might conclude that the conservative economic agenda has largely failed. But here’s the thing: While the rich still pay taxes and the safety net has in some ways gotten stronger, the decades since Reagan have nonetheless been marked by vastly increased inequality, with stagnating wages for most, but soaring incomes for a tiny elite. How did that happen?
Yes, globalization probably played some role, as did technology. But other wealthy countries, just as exposed to the winds of global change, haven’t seen anything like America’s headlong rush into a new Gilded Age. To understand what happened to us, and in particular to American workers, you need to look at policy — and especially the kind of policy that often flies under the media’s radar.
Take one example, covered a few months ago in a striking Times essay: the decline in the fortunes of truck drivers, whose pay used to make them members of the middle class. No more: Their real wages have fallen about a third since the 1970s, with most of the decline taking place during the Reagan years.
Now, globalization and technology haven’t destroyed trucking jobs; on the contrary, the industry is facing a labor shortage. What happened to truckers was, basically, the collapse of their bargaining power due in part to a changed ideological climate — not least at the National Labor Relations Board — that encouraged private employers to fight unionization, and in part to deregulation that undercut the position of unionized firms.
Right now it looks as if [Trump] may have much less impact on taxing and spending than most people expected. But other policies, often made administratively by federal agencies rather than via legislation, can matter a lot.”
For the full column, check out Krugman’s piece here.