Demonstrators march to Senator Rob Portman's office on December 9 to protest the GOP tax bill.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has inspired a wave of corporate largesse. When Congress passed the tax bill on December 20, AT&T announced that it would give $1,000 bonuses over the holidays to 200,000 of its U.S. employees. The largest telecommunications company in the world by revenue, AT&T was a vocal supporter of the tax bill, which lowers the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%.

Other companies were quick to jump on the PR bandwagon. Comcast gave $1,000 bonuses to over 100,000 employees. Fifth Third announced a $15 minimum hourly wage across the company and gave out $1,000 bonuses to more than 13,500 of its employees.

The timing of the bonuses was more than just PR spin to soften public reaction to the widely unpopular tax bill, which gives a permanent tax cut to corporations and the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the poor and middle class. The companies also saved a bundle by giving out the bonuses in the 2017 tax year. For example, AT&T gets $28 million more in tax deductions for paying out the bonuses before the 2018 tax rate kicks in.

In Reaganomics terms, the bonuses and raises are the tiniest “trickle” compared to the vast influx of corporate cash generated by the tax cut. Rank-and-file employees create most of the wealth, so corporations are throwing them a bone to keep them loyal. For many workers, the effect of this buy-off will last only until they are laid off in the next corporate downsizing.

In repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, the tax bill will bar 13 million Americans from access to health care, further widening the wealth gap.

Conservative economists say that lower taxes will drive more corporate spending on wages, R&D, and capital investment. But U.S. corporations have not committed to this in writing. “Even as corporate earnings have ascended to their largest share of GDP since the postwar boom, and corporations get better and better at dodging the taxman, wages and salaries now occupy their lowest share of GDP since the second world war,” writes Henry Grabar in Slate. “Real wages have barely budged upward since 1980—and have fallen for the lowest-paid workers.”

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan is troubled by the widening economic inequality driven by corporate greed, and the increasing openness to socialism, especially among young people. But she holds out hope that U.S. corporations will do the right thing with the tax bill. “This bill gives American big business more than a boatload of money, it offers a historic opportunity—a timely and perhaps final one,” she writes.

“Big corporations can take the gift of the tax cut…and do superficial, pleasing public relations sort of things, while really focusing on buying back stock and upping shareholder profits. And they’ll do this if they’re stupid, and craven. Or they could set themselves to saving the system that made them, and helping the country that made their lives possible.

“This may be the last opportunity for business leaders to do what hasn’t been done in a generation, and that is defend the reputation of capitalism,” Noonan writes.

Mark my words: Corporate America is not going to take Noonan’s advice. And it’s not because they are stupid or craven. It’s because they’re addicted to the unlimited economic growth that capitalism promises but cannot deliver. They’ve put their faith in a unsustainable system that is sounding its own death knell. You’ve heard about peak oil? We are now in the era of peak capitalism.

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