Viewpoint: Tax and campaign finance reforms are key to countering the outsized political power of billionaires and corporations – Opinions
Many were rightly offended by Jeff Bezos’ gleeful glee upon returning from his 11-minute spacewalk: “I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you paid for everything. that.
Indeed, just during the pandemic, Bezos achieved an increase in fortune of $ 86 billion, becoming the first person in history worth more than $ 200 billion; in total, billionaires added $ 1 trillion to their wealth during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Amazon made a record profit of $ 20 billion in 2020, but paid a 9.4% tax rate – a paltry sum compared to what a teacher pays in income tax – but it was the first time that Amazon paid more than zero in taxes since 2016; 55 of the Fortune 500 companies paid no taxes.
“Just days before Bezos launched into space, a sobering new report was released showing that a full-time worker would need to earn at least $ 24.90 an hour to pay rent. ‘a two bedroom apartment in any state in the country,’ the senator said. Elizabeth Warren wrote. “Which means a lot of those workers who paid to send Jeff into space can’t afford to pay for housing with the paycheck they get from Amazon.”
Indeed, the pay ratio of the CEO to the typical worker was 299: 1 in 2020; compare that to 21 to 1 in 1965 and 61 to 1 in 1989. In 2020, workers’ salaries rose only 1.8%, while CEO salaries, aided by soaring inventories, rose by. 16%.
I have no problem with mega-billionaires Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk funding innovation and spurring new industries and businesses. But I have a problem with the way they exploit the tax code, their workers and even their clients to amass such fortunes, which today are the equivalent of political power. Because our government at all levels – federal, state, and local – is strapped for resources, our collective society is increasingly able to beg billionaires to fund everything from public education to health care and more. by infrastructure.
It’s like Charles Dickens’ Oliver begging with his empty bowl, “Please sir, can I have more?” “
As Jeff Yang notes in The New York Times, “Being super rich doesn’t make you a superhero.” “America isn’t the only place that views the rich as a special race that plays by special rules. But the American brand and the mythology of the “American dream” are rooted in the valuation of individual success. »(Www.nytimes.com/2021/06/20/opinion/rich-musk-gates-bezos-comics.html)
In other words, in the capitalist myth based on Calvinism, the rich are rich because they are better than the rest of us and deserve their power and success (the rationale for economics and politics “trickle-down” tax) and not because they ruthlessly cheat or shamelessly exploit loopholes, or simply find themselves in the right place at the right time. (The wealth of Bezos and Musk alone exceeds the combined wealth of the poorest 40% of all Americans; the richest 0.1% have wealth equivalent to the poorest 85%.)
Masters of the Universe? As Propublica reported, “The 25 richest Americans, including Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, and Elon Musk, paid relatively little – and sometimes nothing – in federal income tax.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/08/us/politics/ Income-taxes-bezos-musk-buffett.html)
How? ‘Or’ What? One way is that they don’t actually get an “income”.
Instead, they exploit tax loopholes such as unlimited revolving loans based on projected increases in their assets to pay for their lavish lifestyles, like taking a rocket ride in space (the interest on the loan is also tax deductible).
“Jeff Bezos is the second richest person in the world. His net worth is almost $ 195 billion. But his salary is about the same as the average Massachusetts public school teacher: $ 80,000. Income taxation alone will not make it pay its fair share. It’s time for a #WealthTax, ”Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted.
But in addition to being a progressive chimera that will never be adopted into law, a wealth tax is impractical because much of the wealth is primarily illiquid and therefore transitory.
It’s hard enough to assess the value of homes for local property tax, how would you assess billions of real estate annually? Some have said that if they paid taxes on the increase in wealth in a year, would they get a refund when values fell?
Should Bill Gates sell a mansion or a yacht every year to pay the tax or just donate the title to the US Treasury?
Instead, more practical approaches would be to adapt the alternative minimum tax that is used against middle class taxpayers to the current reality; attack the billions that are hidden in off-shore tax havens; allow the IRS to prosecute the $ 1,000 billion in uncollected taxes; and reassess how capital gains are assessed and taxed.
Likewise, companies are able to evade taxes – $ 70 billion a year by offshoring their revenues to tax havens, alone. Biden has proposed raising corporate taxes (from the absurdly low 21% when few pay more than 8% anyway) and garnered G-7 support on a global minimum corporate tax of 15%.
The wealth imbalance is more than a question of lifestyle and the ability to afford a rocket ride in space.
Billionaires and corporations through their political contributions, the lobbyists they can buy, and their “philanthropy” increasingly determine policy and shape society. More and more, these expenses go to the suppression of the voters, to electoral subversion; deregulation which endangers the climate and the environment, public health and consumers; and laws against climate change, sustainable infrastructure spending, gun control; and a tax policy to protect their wealth (and power) from income and inheritance taxes.
As Jane Mayer reports in “The Big Money Behind the Big Lie,” in the New Yorker, a few billionaire-backed foundations – the Bradley Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, and the CAFTA – fund the Big Lie movement, the Arizona fraud. and countless other campaigns. to recount (reject) votes in Democratic-leaning counties, voter suppression / electoral subversion legislation and propaganda. (www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/08/09/the-big-money-behind-the-big-lie)
The absurd decision of the Supreme Court Citizens United, which essentially equates money with words (“Money talks!”), Must be overturned.
But there should also be limits on how much a candidate can raise outside of their constituency, say no more than 20 percent. Yes, it is really radical, but elections should be conducted in the name and by the real voters, instead of being nationalized and financed by the richest pockets.
Here’s another change in campaign finance law: Businesses, unions or foundations should not be allowed to make political donations without getting the approval of their shareholders and stakeholders (like employees).
Such a standard is expected to flow from the 2018 Supreme Court ruling requiring consent to bill union dues. Home Depot shareholders, for example, could see their returns drop if the company continues to fund Republican candidates who voted to overturn the 2020 election.
Indeed, these ultra-rich and corporations use taxpayer subsidies to finance their political activity.