Markets are shaped by choices. Not just the choices of sellers and buyers, but the choices of political leaders too, who shape the rules that govern how markets operate.
Markets only work if government sets the rules of the road, establishing property rights, providing consumer-safety protections, protecting workers, and much more. The critical question is who writes those rules and who benefits from them.
Under the Trump administration, the answer is clear: the economic rules have been rewritten to enrich wealthy donors and politicians and to hurt working- and middle-class families.
Look no further than Trump’s signature legislation: his tax bill.
Congressional supporters of the legislation repeatedly admitted that the reason they pushed the bill was to satisfy their donors. It’s not hard to see why; the vast majority of the benefits of the legislation go to corporations and the wealthiest Americans. And while most working- and middle-class families saw a temporary tax cut, the permanent tax cuts for corporations are paid for by permanent tax increases on the middle-class.
But if middle-class families were getting any benefit from the tax bill, it’s likely been wiped out by the new costs that Trump is imposing on them through tariffs. Trump claims these tariffs are about helping workers. But to the extent there is any coherent strategy behind them, they are aimed at helping large corporations secure even larger profits, not at increasing workers’ wages.
While Trump argues that the cost of tariffs is being borne by China, the real loser is the American consumer. All told, these Trump tariffs cost the average family $831 a year, more than offsetting the average tax cut for a household in the bottom 80%. And now Trump is saying he’ll impose even more costs on the American people as part of his erratic and ineffectual trade policy.
But this is not the only area where Trump is driving up costs for the middle-class to increase corporate profits; he’s used a wide range of government powers to take actions that hurt working families.
Early in his presidency, Trump quietly abandoned a rule guaranteeing overtime pay to millions of people making up to around $50,000 a year, which would have boosted working- and middle-class wages. In its place, he’s proposed a watered-down rule, which would result in a cut to workers’ pay of $1.2 billion every year.
That’s not all. Trump has abandoned a rule that prevented savers and retirees from being cheated by unscrupulous financial advisors.
Every year, people lose $17 billion in retirement savings because of financial advisers with conflicts of interest. And to add insult to injury, Trump is looking to weaken standards for fuel efficiency and climate pollution, which would cost American families $23.8 billion every year, largely because of higher gas spending.
Trump has given away hundreds of billions of dollars to the wealthy and corporations, helping conservative donors, members of Congress, and himself. Meanwhile, he’s raised costs on American families through a mixture of cutting their wages, driving up their spending, and draining their retirement savings.
By setting the economic rules of the road, government has the power to make it easier for some and harder for others. You can learn a lot about an administration’s priorities by seeing how it utilizes these powers. Under Trump, these powers have been used time and time again to benefit corporations and the wealthy at the expense of working- and middle-class families.