Hillary Clinton is having a lot of fun taking shots at Donald Trump’s economic plan to make America “great” again. She calls it an extreme version of the Republicans’ failed theory of trickle-down economics.
The Trump plan would, of course, be a disaster for working people — and another windfall for the rich, with its proposals for eliminating the estate tax and opening up new tax loopholes for the wealthy.
But Clinton’s own economic plan isn’t very new, much less positive for working people. It reads a lot like the policies of the Bill Clinton administration — and while Hillary denounces the failed Republican policies recycled by Trump, the truth is Clintonomics repurposed many of the GOP proposals that came before it.
Providing targeted tax breaks to corporations, cutting “red tape” and doing away with regulations on business were all hallmarks of the Clinton-era policies that successfully made a break from the Democrats’ past image of the party of social welfare spending.
And no matter what she says on the campaign trail to appeal for votes, a new Clinton administration — like the Clinton administration she served in the 1990s — will have little to offer in the way of policies to improve the lives of working-class Americans. But when it comes to Corporate America — well, that’s a different story.
At a stop on the Clinton campaign’s “jobs tour,” the candidate addressed reporters at the Futuramic plant in Detroit, where they make nose cones for the F-35 fighter plane.
The choice of a manufacturer of parts for the U.S. military as the site of her speech sent a little message about what Clinton has in store in terms of her administration’s spending priorities.
And here’s something that you don’t always hear enough of from Democrats: a big part of our plan will be unleashing the power of the private sector to create more jobs at higher pay. And that means for us, creating an infrastructure bank to get private funds off the sidelines and complement our private investments. $25 billion in government seed funding could unlock more than $250 billion and really get our country moving on our infrastructure plans.
What should we make of this happy talk?
First off, Barack Obama promised an infrastructure bank back in 2008 — a federal fund to create jobs rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, such as bridges, transportation system, dams, etc. Obama promised a different amount — $60 billion to create 2 million jobs — but it didn’t matter much, because the proposal never happened.
So when Hillary Clinton makes the same promise, we should remember two things about her former boss’s record: First, when Republicans had control in Congress, they stopped at nothing to obstruct Democratic legislative proposals. And second, even when the GOP was in the minority during Obama’s first two years, the Democrats didn’t fight for what they promised.
That’s why Hillary Clinton can promise the moon, knowing that she’ll never have to deliver.
As Doug Henwood, author of My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency, said in a Real News interview:
I just really am very skeptical that anything will come of a lot of these proposals … [D]uring the primary campaign, people said about the Bernie Sanders proposal: well, how would he get it through Congress? I have the same question for Hillary, but she doesn’t seem to get the same question with the same frequency or intensity: How would she get that through Congress?
As for Clinton’s call for Democrats to start “unleashing the power of the private sector,” that idea isn’t new either. The “New” Democrats of the Democratic Leadership Council, with Bill Clinton at the helm, were pushing this line decades ago.
Under the Clinton administration, Vice President Al Gore was put in charge of the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, which set out “reforms” of government programs that really meant cutting federal spending and embracing market-based solutions, such as privatization.
So for example, “reinventing” the Occupation Safety and Health Administration meant slashing funds for enforcement of regulations that stop workers from getting injured or sick on the job — and instead focusing on a “partnership” where management policed itself.
So Democrats talking about “unleashing the power of the private sector” isn’t novel, nor has it been a good thing for workers. The results of the federal “partnership” with the private sector overall were as expected — funding for social programs were cut in the interest of market-based solutions.
Between 1992 and 2000, support for education decreased by 24 percent; science by 19 percent; income security by 18 percent; and transportation by 10 percent, according to Robert Pollin writing in the Nation.
The theory behind the New Democrats’ neoliberal policies was that their party shouldn’t seek to curb corporate influence over every aspect of life, but to increase it. So when Hillary Clinton talks about all the jobs that are going to be created in the U.S., her focus is on what the government can give to corporations to create them — but with no guarantee that business will do what’s asked of them.
For instance, the Clinton campaign touts its proposal to spend $10 billion on “Make it in America” partnerships — a jingoistic effort to bribe U.S-based multinational corporations to manufacture in the U.S.
She also proposes a new tax credit for companies that adopt a profit-sharing plan for their workers, calling it “a more progressive, more patriotic tax code that puts American jobs first.” Clinton emphasizes how the profit-sharing scheme “gives everyone a stake in the company’s success can boost productivity and put money directly into employees’ pockets. It’s a win-win.”
In other words, Clinton wants to encourages “cooperation” between workers and bosses by tying wages to how well a corporation is doing. That’s a win for bosses, not workers.
Clinton calls for tax credits for companies that agree to offer apprenticeships. Translation: Give corporations money for hiring young workers at bargain-rate wages. Clinton will also offer national initiatives to “cut red tape” and expand access to credit to small businesses and entrepreneurs.
So Clinton’s plan for creating jobs isn’t actually about creating jobs, but about providing incentives — federal funding, tax breaks, eliminating red tape, etc. — that will supposedly encourage businesses to create jobs.
Sounds more and more like a variation on the trickle-down plans of the Republicans that Clinton loves to denounce on the campaign trail.
As for workers, Hillary Clinton suggests more education and job training. In order to help with crushing student loan debt, she’s proposing — no, not debt forgiveness — to make it “easier to refinance and repay what you owe as a portion of your income, so you don’t have to pay more than you can afford.”
But if you’re in college and decide to become an entrepreneur, then Clinton might forgive your student loans.
So if Hillary Clinton is rehashing many of the same policies that she supported during the Clinton-Gore administration, they must have worked out well, right?
If you ask Corporate America, the Clinton years went swimmingly. As Lance Selfa, author of Democrats: A Critical History, wrote:
From Wall Street’s point of view, Clinton’s eight years in office have to be viewed as a smashing success … Inflation dropped to imperceptible levels, and in May 2000, unemployment hit a 30-year low of 3.9 percent. Between 1992 and 1997, corporate profits grew by an average of 15 percent annually. The U.S. had clearly zoomed ahead as the world’s leading economy.
Jobs were created during the Bill Clinton administration, Selfa points out, but the majority of them were low-wage. Half paid less than $7 an hour, and many workers seeking full-time jobs couldn’t find anything but part-time.
Workers felt another hit after Clinton-era economic boom went bust in the early 2000s, and then more spectacularly with the Great Recession in 2008. More than ever, working people needed social services — but they had been “reinvented” by the Clinton administration and were no longer there.
Then again, maybe we don’t need to worry about what Hillary Clinton is promising to do — since she’s hardly high on the list of promise-keeping politicians.
Take the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the economic deal that she promises as a candidate to oppose. But she not only vocally supported it in the past, one of her top surrogates, Terry McAuliffe said during the Democratic convention that she would flip-flop once she got into the Oval Office.
That wouldn’t be much of a surprise, since the TPP is in keeping with the Clinton Democrats’ decades-old philosophy toward trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement: What’s good for business is good for Clinton.
Another example. Clinton talks about creating green jobs — but it’s worth recalling that as Secretary of State, she promoted the use of environmentally devastating hydraulic fracturing — fracking — as she visited governments around the globe.
Likewise, Clinton says she supports unions. But supporting unions at campaign events is easy, especially if you know the union leadership is solidly behind you and the heads of corporations know you’re just talking.
On paper, Clinton supports the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would require businesses to recognize a union as soon as a majority of workers signed cards saying they wanted to join. But she doesn’t talk about it, and we shouldn’t expect her to start in the White House.
Barack Obama promised to make passing EFCA a priority when he was campaigning in 2008, but even with a Democratic supermajority in Congress during his first two years, the measure was allowed to die on the vine.
And nowhere in her economic plan is there even the most basic defense of the idea of a social safety net — because Hillary Clinton doesn’t really support one.
After a Democratic primary in which Bernie Sanders highlighted rising income inequality and argued for a return to the so-called core values of the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton’s economic program appears almost unchanged by the discussion. Clinton could hardly wait to turn the page on Sanders so she could focus on Trump.
That’s the inevitable outcome of the dead-end of lesser-evil politics in the U.S. — where a Democrat who positions herself just to the left of an increasingly right-wing Republican Party can be called a “friend of working people” because not quite as bad as the “greater evil.”