There are supposed to be two certainties in life: death and taxes. Here’s a 2021 corollary: As the rich get richer and richer, they pay less and less into the U.S. Treasury.
It’s no joke, my fellow 1040 filers. A recent study by economists and the IRS found that the richest Americans —yes, those infamous one-percenters— have been cheating on their taxes to the collective tune of at least $175 billion a year.
The all-set set has been doing more dodging than Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games.”
They accomplish this dastardly scam by hiding more than 20 percent of their lucre from Uncle Sam. They have layers of lawyers and flocks of accountants and offshore shell corporations up the ying yang.
They’re ever so clever, and many of them flat out cheat, too.
The chronically underfunded IRS can’t keep pace. Its budget was cut 18 percent (adjusted for inflation) from 2010 to 2017 and it lost 18,000 employees. Since then the bloodletting has continued. It is auditing fewer and fewer returns as a result. Rich people are partying like it’s 1912 (before the federal income tax was instituted).
If flush Americans ponied up what they owed this year, like most of us regular Americans will, they would reduce the federal deficit for 2021 by nearly 8 percent. That, my fellow chumps, is not chump change. Can you guess who among us is paying more so rich people can light their Cuban cigars with hundred dollar bills?
One would think (and be dead wrong) that the multi-millionaires and billionaires (no trillionaires yet, but coming soon) would be happy with the repeated, generous tax cuts that have been bestowed on them during the past 20 years —most, but not all, by Republican administrations, and most recently in 2017.
The nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reports that since 2000 Congress has passed tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the top 20 percent of households, and that have increased the federal deficit by nearly $6 trillion.
The Tax Policy Center estimated that in 2019 the 2017 tax cut bill resulted in 60 percent of Americans at the short end of the income stick getting federal tax savings of less than $1,000 while those in the top one percent were saving some $51,000.
Once upon a time the rich paid more in taxes, not a lot more, but more, and also owned a smaller percentage of America’s mammon. In 1989, the one-percenters controlled 30 percent of the nation’s wealth, almost as much as the bottom 90-percent did (33 percent), according to the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
By 2016, before the generous 2017 tax cut, the super rich had increased their hold on our collective wherewithal to 39 percent. Meanwhile the share of wealth owned by the lower nine tenths of Americans (including you and me, I’m assuming) dropped to 23 percent.
One doesn’t need a study to determine that the rich get richer.
But how about during a pandemic, when more than 11 million Americans lost their jobs and tens of millions more were in danger of being evicted?
Don’t be silly, the rich got richer over the past year, too. They weathered 2020 just fine and dandy. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in January found that 40 percent of upper-income American adults reported that their financial situation had improved in the past year and eight in ten indicated that their finances were hunky dory (excellent or good). USA Today reported in December that America’s 614 billionaires grew their net worth by a collective $931 billion from mid-March through November of 2020.
Jeff Bezos, the richest man in America ($180 billion, give or take, nearly one fifth of a $1 trillion) and the owner of Amazon and The Washington Post, got way richer during the pandemic. He is using some of his new money to fight workers trying to unionize his warehouses.
Other mega-wealthy Americans will be contributing to the campaign war chests of senators and congresspersons who have pledged to keep their taxes low and the IRS on a starvation diet.
How are we to pity the poor plutocrats if nothing bad ever happens to them?
Oops, almost forgot. The new administration is planning to raise taxes on the rich; and many of them, as well as their enablers in Washington, have already started to squeal.
David Holahan is a freelance writer from East Haddam.