Being an economic advisor to Donald Trump and selling your soul to the Devil are virtually indistinguishable. Just ask Gary Cohn, who one day was quoted as saying, “Coal doesn’t even make sense any more,” and a few days later as saying, “We want to be in the coal business.” Now Cohn is shilling the repeal of the estate tax as, wait for it now — a boon to farmers. Vanity Fair:
In April, when Team Trump first unveiled its one-page, double-spaced, bullet-point outline for tax reform, Cohn staunchly defended the repeal of the estate tax, for instance, as a boon to struggling farmers. But in an interview Thursday morning with CNBC’s John Harwood, Cohn’s arguments broke down under the slightest prodding, revealing his transformation from straight-shooting pragmatist to Trump’s new Baghdad Bob:
Harwood: You’re the one who said only a moron pays the estate tax.
Cohn: I can guarantee you Gary Cohn doesn’t care about the estate tax.
Harwood: When you look at the actual number of real farms that pay the estate tax, it is tiny—in the dozens.
Cohn: Well, I think people have managed to keep themselves below the estate tax. This is the whole issue. Many people are smart enoughto know how to manage themselves out of the estate tax. So, if youhave a family farm that’s big enough that it’s going to hit the estatetax, you start paying lawyers, consultants, and accountants to breakup your land, and break up your farm, and giving it to the kids whenthe families would prefer to keep the farm intact, keep it whole, andmanage it as one big farm. We’re forcing people into irrationalbehavior, when we’d like to keep them in rational behavior, and runthe farm as one big farm.
Harwood: Are you seriously saying with a straight face that getting rid of the estate tax is about farmers and not about verywealthy families?
The performance was not well-received back on Wall Street. “I’m embarrassed for him,” one former Goldman Sachs partner told me. “To say that it’s about farmers, it’s just factually wrong. It’s no more about farmers than the moon landing. A year ago, you thought the president might be surrounded by people who would guide him to good policy. That’s not happening. The president is one large S.T.D., and if you’re in close proximity you’re going to get tainted by it.”