The Art of the Scam

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Photo: The White House
Media Outlet: The New York Times

Mark Schmitt wrote for The New York Times about the unstable scam economy that Trump's economic policy will usher in.

The policies of the Trump-Ryan coalition weaken that confidence in three ways. The carelessness about policy, exemplified by the frantic process that led to the withholding mess, is the least important of the three. Specific policies also deliberately shift risk toward individuals: Consider the rules in the new tax act that encourage pass-through businesses, which will lead employers to convert employees into independent contractors, costing them protections such as unemployment insurance and health care.
A proposal for paid family leave recently floated by Ivanka Trump and Senator Marco Rubio takes the policy of “give with one hand, take away with the other” to an absurd extreme: New parents could pay for leave from their future Social Security payments, trading a week of paid leave for a week of retirement benefits, as if people could make a rational, informed choice between needs that will typically fall 40 years apart in the life cycle.
Finally, this administration has eagerly taken down the guardrails intended to protect individuals from the worst predators: the “fiduciary rule,” which had required investment advisers to act in the interest of their clients; the hard-fought rules that protect students from worthless for-profit colleges and student loans they can’t repay; and even the recent Labor Department rule requiring that employees receive the tips that are intended for them. Virtually every enforcement action of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been put on hold or canceled — even the investigation of the Equifax hack that disclosed the financial records of millions of people — exposing all of us to even more scams and tricks.
These rules are particularly vulnerable because they are recent — newer regulations are easier to reverse. They’re recent because it was only in the third through last years of the Obama administration, once the urgency of the economic crisis of the late 2000s had receded, that the administration seemed to see reining in the scam economy as a defining goal and the new rules of the Dodd-Frank Act, including the powers of the C.F.P.B., were finally put into place. But the problem in political terms was that these pieces were not knitted into a big theme. Each action was in its own policy universe: student loans, investor protection, worker rights.
Giving people some security from the scam economy is never going to involve one big program or idea, like universal basic income or single-payer health care. It will always involve dozens of policies, even to replace the dozens that are currently being dismantled.
But together they add up to a big theme, ensuring that people who pursue education, work hard and try to save for the future have some assurance that they will be able to navigate a complex and quickly changing economic climate. Progressives should give it a name, because it connects with the experience of every American outside of the very wealthy.


Author:

Mark Schmitt is director of the program on Political Reform at New America.