Some clever person in the distant past re-wrote the Golden Rule to state something entirely different, but no one would dispute the truth of the re-worded version---he who has the gold, rules. The wealthy rule this country without having to hold political office. They pull the strings, and when they do, things either happen or don’t, depending what outcome they desire.
Recently someone anonymously leaked the tax records for 25 of America’s richest to ProPublica, a nonprofit news outlet, for the years 2014-2018. All are billionaires. All somehow made multiples of billions of dollars during the “radical socialist” years of Barack Obama’s presidency and continued their good fortune under Donald Trump. If only these fortunate tycoons would have shared the secret of their success with the working masses.
Well, actually, the poorly guarded secret is out and was never really a secret---just something these folks didn’t talk about or deflected when asked. The tax code provides for more esoteric breaks for those who have the gold, and at the same time is a full employment bill for tax lawyers and accountants. But paying the experts to navigate the tax maze is a pittance compared to the savings. In round numbers to keep it simple, some of these successful businessmen paid nothing or close to it some years, while others averaged roughly fifteen percent. The maximum tax at the time ranged between thirty-five to thirty-nine percent.
According to Greg Sargent of the Washington Post, “Those 25 people saw their worth rise a collective $401 billion from 2014 to 2018. They paid a total of $13.6 billion in federal income taxes in those five years, the IRS data shows. That’s a staggering sum, but it amounts to a true tax rate of only 3.4%.”
The defense for paying so little in income taxes is that it is perfectly legal. I doubt anyone can legitimately argue otherwise. Then again, who really writes the tax laws? Ostensibly, our elected representatives, who are supposed to represent everyone in their districts and states, vote “on our behalf”, and reflect our views in the Congress.
In actuality, we all know how this works. The special interests--- the individuals and various businesses, organizations, and other entities with juice, get to communicate by “face mail” with their representatives, deposit large sums of money into their campaigns and PACs, and things get done. And be sure, though, there is no quid pro quo because the representative only promises to consider the contributor’s request, along with all other information, when it is time to vote on the House or Senate floor. All done with a straight face.
For something that is perfectly legal, the golden geese were less than amused when the media reported on them. Surely they weren’t embarrassed by the revelations, or is there a moral or other component to this debate that shamed them?
The vast majority of Americans pay taxes on their labor, their sweat equity, for work that is either physical or otherwise demanding. Most are not invested in the stock market except for retirement plans. They live on their paychecks. The other and smaller segment of taxpayers who live and stockpile money made from a variety of investments, are taxed differently and more favorably. Is it time to change how we tax ourselves?
Those who defend the uber wealthy’s wealth might call them the job creators. Most are, but in today’s high tech economy, many companies that pay well and have large revenue streams, also provide fewer jobs than much of the service industry that pays considerably less. In other words, most of the big bucks go to the likes of Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, et al.
Georgia illustrates that with changing times and technology, there are other ways to look at this issue, in this instance the sales tax. After the U.S. Supreme Court decided that retail sales on the internet could be taxed in a state even if the retailer didn’t have a presence there, Georgia began to tax those sales. It has been very successful and has probably helped to avoid any other tax increases.
However you classify the wealthy, i.e. job creators or something else, they live in a country that provides infrastructure, stability, and the most powerful military in the world, all which advance and protect their interests. They have the most to gain and lose if those things changed in a significant way. They should pay for it just as the worker pays his fair share of taxes that come out automatically from his paycheck with no loopholes. Would these same tycoons be so successful in Somalia or North Korea?
I think of how underpaid our police and firefighters are, how they live on adrenalin, do shift work, and the toll doing this for years takes on their bodies and psyches. Yet we expect a disproportionate return from them because there are those who believe in no tax increases of any kind, ever.
I don’t have a solution to provide more equity to our tax system, but considering the number of tax experts from so many interests, I am confident that we can do better, that we can devise simpler laws that require a fairer and more efficient way to collect from those who have enjoyed unrivaled prosperity and security.
The ProPublica report could ignite much needed tax reform. But I am not counting on it. Follow the money and you’ll know why. As former convicted Congressman Ozzie Myers (D-PA) said as he stuffed cash into his suitcoat pockets, all recorded by the FBI, “Money talks, bull---- walks.”