Sunday, April 15, 2007

Pssst. Wanna Know How To Reduce Your Tax Bill? Simple: Become Rich


Tax season is here again. Would you like to know a sure-fire way of reducing your tax bill?

Simple. Become rich. The richer, the better.

Example: let's say your wealth puts you in the top 1/100th of 1 percent of all Americans. That's about 28,000 people in the U.S. These people, on average, make around $2 million every five days, which is what the average American earns over the course of a lifetime.

The tax burden for these super-rich people has been steadily falling for years. For example, in 1993, they paid 30 cents of every dollar into federal income tax. In 2000, that had fallen to 22 cents. Now, with the Bush tax cuts, it has fallen to 18 cents.

In his book Perfectly Legal, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston details an outrageously unfair tax system that screws the poor and working class. It's a tax system that has been increasing shifting the burden away from the rich and onto lower-income taxpayers for years, a phenomenon that's gotten little coverage in the mainstream media.

Not only do the rich avoid paying taxes, but they also usually avoid tax audits. Johnston points out that working class people are eight times more likely to face an audit than the wealthy.

Johnston is only one of a number of high-profile investigative journalists who've detailed America's unfair tax system over the years.

In 1994, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Donald Barlett and James Steele published an eye-opening account of America's unfair tax system in their book, America: Who Really Pays the Taxes?

Barlett and Steele painted a gloomy picture of a beleaguered middle- and working class that is soaking up more and more of the nation's tax burden. They also detail how the tax burden is quietly shifting in other ways.

For example, the tax burden in the U.S. over the years has been shifting from corporations to individual taxpayers. In the 1950s, corporations paid around half of all taxes. Today, their burden has shrunk to less than 10 percent. In fact, today, 60 percent of all U.S. corporations pay zero income tax.

Johnston, Bartlett and Steele point out numerous cases in which wealthy individuals don't even bother to file a tax return.

Johnston cites the example of two billionaires, Alec and Jocelyn Wildenstein, who admitted under oath that for 30 years, they never even filed a tax return---and faced no consequences as a result.

In their book, Barlett and Steele point out that in 1989, there were 1,081 people earning over $200,000 who paid zero income tax. I would suspect that since Barlett and Steele's 1994 book was released that the number of wealthy tax avoiders has increased further still.

In the interviews they conducted to research their books, Barlett, Steele and Johnston describe ordinary taxpayers' seething anger and frustration with the unfairness of the tax code.

Johnston, in particular, seems pessimistic that the U.S. tax system will ever be fixed. He considers open revolt and social disruption a possibility in the future.

For their part, Barlett and Steele, offer modest proposals for making the tax system more equitable, such as closing all loopholes. However, the odds of real change to make the tax system more fair in Bush's America seem remote indeed.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of Bush tax cuts, let's not forget the inheritance tax, which Bush aims to abolish (at a cost of some $300 billion to the U.S. Treasury). So while the likes of Paris Hilton get to enjoy a tax-free life, the working-class will be stuck with a tax hike to make up the difference. Right-wingers love to claim that the inheritance tax is "unfair." But if this is true, then isn't plain, old income tax unfair, too? Seems to me that the only fair taxes are tariffs (because they're voluntary---no one is forced to buy imported goods). Ironically, Repukes are all strongly opposed to tariffs.

Anonymous said...

Years ago, Ross Perot said it best: "We need a country that comes from the people, not at the people."

Anonymous said...

I've long believed that the U.S. tax code is deliberately complex (and unfathomable to the layman). All the better to hide various loopholes for the rich therein.

dhlii said...

I will be happy to close ALL the loopholes. charitable deductions, health insurance, mortgages, children, .....
You should be happy now, the economy is in the crapper, The poor are slightly poorer, but the rich are making much less, and a larger share of the total tax burden is falling farther down the ladder. Besides where do you get this idea that the truly weathy pay income taxes ? Income taxes are paid by people who work, those high tax rates on upper incomes are not taxes on the super rich, they are taxes on people trying to succeed and become rich.
It is trivial to make the tax system "fairer" - make everyone poor. You want fair, exempt all income under 40K a year, and set the tax rate on the rest at 15% for everyone with no deductions for anything. Regardless, the effect of various taxes on the economy have been fairly thoroughly studied - including by Romer. The more "progressive" the tax code the more negative its impact on the economy. The most regressive taxes - sales taxes and consumption taxes have negligible economic impact, but they hit the worst off the hardest. While small changes in corporate taxes, capital gains taxes, and upper margin taxes have economic effects that dwarf the taxes themselves. Tax cuts on the so called wealthy may be a small net loss to the treasury, but they are a big net gain for ALL of the rest of us.