Trump’s Secret Foreign Aid Program
He’s giving away billions to overseas investors.
Donald Trump often complains that the media don’t give him credit for his achievements. And I can think of at least one case where that’s true. As far I can tell, almost nobody is reporting that he has presided over a huge — but hidden — increase in foreign aid, the money America gives to foreigners. In fact, the hidden Trump program, currently running at around $40 billion a year, is probably the biggest giveaway to other nations since the Marshall Plan.
Unfortunately, the aid isn’t going either to poor countries or to America’s allies. Instead, it’s going to wealthy foreign investors.
Before I get there, let’s talk for a second about a claim Trump often makes about a highly visible part of his economic strategy, the tariffs he has imposed on imports from China and other countries. These tariffs, he has insisted again and again, are being paid by China and represent billions in gains to the United States.
This claim is, however, demonstrably false. Tariffs are normally paid by consumers in the importing country, not exporters. And we can confirm that this is what’s happening with the Trump tariffs: Prices of goods subject to those tariffs have risen sharply, roughly in line with the tariff increases, while prices of goods not subject to the new tariffs haven’t gone up.
So Trump’s tariffs aren’t a tax on foreigners, whatever he may think. On the other hand, his other policies have given selective foreigners a huge tax break.
Remember, Trump’s only major legislative achievement so far is the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act. The core of that bill was a sharp reduction in corporate tax rates, which has led to a drastic fall in tax revenues, on the order of $140 billion over the past year.
Who gains from this tax cut? Supporters of the bill claimed that the benefits would be passed on to workers in the form of higher wages, and they made a big deal over a flurry of corporate bonus announcements in early 2018. But those bonuses weren’t actually very big, and they didn’t continue.
In fact, at this point it’s clear that the bonus surge, such as it was, was all about tax avoidance: By moving up payments they were going to make anyway, corporations got to deduct the expense at the old, higher tax rate. Now that this option has expired, bonuses have dropped back to their normal level, or even a bit lower.
What about the argument that tax cuts would promote a huge swell in business investment, which would push up wages? Well, that isn’t happening, either; when it comes to business spending, the tax cut has been a big fizzle.