News & Politics

Paul Krugman: Trump Can Ruin American Workers Without Passing a Single Piece of Legislation

As long as he's in office, he's a threat to the working class.

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It's tempting to believe that because Trump hasn't repealed Obamacare, locked up Hillary Clinton or built a border wall along the Mexican border, his agenda is stalled. That fantasy got a boost this week with the departure of chief strategist Steve Bannon. And while Bannon's firing was a necessary move, Paul Krugman warns we shouldn't break out the champagne just yet.

Yes, the Trump administration's efforts to kick 20 million people of their health insurance while lining the pockets of the 1 percent have been thwarted for now. Krugman can't even get too worked up about the prospect of tax reform. "Straight-out tax cuts," he writes, "which benefit corporations and the wealthy while blowing up the deficit, might still go through, but even that looks doubtful."  

But now is not the time to get complacent. "Don’t just watch Congress," Krugman writes, "keep your eyes on what federal agencies are doing." Whether Trump passes a single act of legislation or not, the Department of Labor can still do immeasurable harm to workers and their unions.

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The most blatant example, according to Krugman, is "the decline in the fortunes of truck drivers, whose pay used to make them members of the middle class." That's over now, as "their real wages have fallen about a third since the 1970s, with most of the decline taking place during the Reagan years." That collapse wasn't because of tax policy. It was a slow and steady erosion of the the power of the National Labor Relations Board, "that encouraged private employers to fight unionization, and in part to deregulation that undercut the position of unionized firms." 

The same can be said for the deregulation of financial companies, whose CEOs were responsible for the housing bubble, the mortgage crisis and ultimately the 2008 recession. It wasn't legislation that enabled them to act so recklessly, but a loosening of rules across all of the agencies that cover our financial systems. When it comes to Congress, Krugman explains, "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." 

Krugman ends his column on an especially grim note: "As long as he’s in office, he retains a lot of power to betray the working people who supported him. And in case you haven’t noticed, betraying those who trust him is a Trump specialty."

Read the entire column at the New York Times.

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Ilana Novick is an AlterNet contributing writer and production editor.