There are a lot of words you could use to describe tax cuts for the rich, but "populist" isn't one of them.
In fact, it might be the last one you would use. But that hasn't stopped some reporters from telling us that his big tax cut plan "make forays into populism" or take a "populist tack on taxes" or contain "a nod to the populist anger roiling both parties."
The source of this alleged populism is Bush's proposal to end carried interest. That is the loophole that lets hedge fund and private equity managers have some of their income taxed at the lower capital gain rate even though it isn't actually a capital gain. As far as tax giveaways go, this might be the most indefensible. After all, it is not as if fund managers are entrepreneurs risking their own money to create jobs. They are just investors risking other people's money to create returns. So there is no economic reason why their performance fees should be taxed as capital gains when everybody else's are not. That is something even former George W. Bush adviser Greg Mankiw agreed with. Bush's trick, though, is that at the same time he would get rid of this unfairness, he would actually dramatically cut taxes for most of those hedge fund guys.
Feel the populism.
The simple story is that Bush wants to cut taxes for the rich, and even closing this loophole wouldn't change that for fund managers. Or at least, you see, the average ones. Why? Well, hedge fund and private equity honchos typically get paid along a 2-and-20 model: they get a management fee of 2 percent the size of their fund, and a performance fee of 20 percent of any profits. But it is only the performance fee that, thanks to the magic of carried interest, gets taxed at 23.8 percent as a capital gain. The management fee still gets taxed at 39.6 percent as ordinary income (or at least it is now that the IRS is cracking down on the illegal practice of pretending management fees are capital gains, too).
So it's important to remember that Bush not only wants to tax all of these fund managers' earnings as ordinary income, but he also wants to cut the top tax rate on ordinary income down to 28 percent. That means hedge fund and private equity managers would see the taxes on their performance fees rise from 23.8 to 28 percent, but the taxes on their management fees fall more than twice as much, from 39.6 to 28 percent. Whether this added up to a bigger or smaller tax bill would depend on how big their fund's profits, and, as a result, their performance fees, were that year. According to my calculations, if they had less than a 27.6 percent return, they would save more on their taxes on management fees than they would pay more on their taxes on performance fees—so they would get an overall tax cut. Considering that the average hedge fund only had a 7.4 percent return in 2014, this plan that supposedly goes after Wall Streeters would mean a lot of them pay Uncle Sam even less than they already do.
Now, to be fair, I guess you could call this the populism of the 99.99 percent. Bush would punish success by raising taxes on the top hedge fund and private equity managers, and then cutting taxes on the losers who couldn't manage to generate 27.6 percent returns. At long last, someone is willing to stick up for the little guys on Wall Street who didn't make the best calls. Well, them and everyone else at the top of the income ladder. The Citizens for Tax Justice estimates that 53 percent of Jeb's $227 billion in income tax cuts would go to the top 1 percent alone. And that doesn't even include the effects of Jeb's plan to eliminate the estate tax and slash corporate taxes, the latter of which the Joint Committee on Taxation thinks would mostly go to the wealthy. It makes his brother's tax cuts, which "only" gave 40 percent of their money to the top 1 percent, look downright Marxist in comparison.
You keep using that word "populism." I do not think it means what you think it means.