By Charles Hugh Smith
Source: Of Two Minds
The truth is America has lost its way if commoners pay a rate of 40% but its billionaires pay next to nothing.
As with everything else in polarized America, billionaires proclaiming space tourism is the next big thing for humanity neatly divides opinion into two camps: those who laud the initiative, hard work and innovations of the billionaires as examples of the American Can-Do Dream, and those who wished the billionaire space tourists had taken a one-way flight to a distant orbit of blissful silence.
Setting aside that bitter divide, let’s explore another divide: how our two-tier tax system enables billionaires to become billionaires while the rest of us get poorer. Whenever I discuss the taxes of the non-billionaire self-employed, armies of apologists leap to the defense of the status quo with various quibbles: the 0.9% Medicare surcharge only kicks in above $200,000, the cap on Social Security taxes is $142,800, and so on.
Setting aside the quibbles–and recall the tax code with regulatory notes is thousands of pages–let’s deal with the real issue, which is that billionaires and their corporations pay a thin slice of taxes as a percentage of total income/gains if they pay any at all, while self-employed and small business pay extraordinarily high tax rates.
To all the quibblers: please add the 15.3% Social Security/Medicare tax rate (self-employed / sole proprietors pay both the employee and employer share of this tax) to the federal tax rate of 24% for income above $85,520. It’s 39.3%.
Just how hard would it be to conclude that everyone earning more than $142,000 should pay at least the same rate the rest of us pay? Aren’t we demonstrating all those same laudable traits of the billionaires, just on a smaller scale? Why should we pay 40% and the billionaires pay essentially zero?
Gee, do you reckon paying no taxes might help folks become richer? Garsh, nobody ever asked that question before. And do you reckon paying 40% of your income might make you poorer over time? Golly gee, how come the talking heads worshiping the billionaires never ask these questions?
Since Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid are the bedrock of America’s social safety net, why shouldn’t billionaires pay to support these programs? Well, why not? Just how lame do the excuses have to be to be recognized as laughably self-serving?
Here’s the trick billionaires use to evade taxes. There are countless ways for the super-wealthy to evade taxes–funnel earnings through an Irish post office box, buy a tax break in Washington DC, slide the money into one of dozens of global tax havens, and so on.
But a simple one is to report no income and live large off borrowed money. As the billions of dollars in capital gains pile up as the billionaire’s stock holdings soar (thanks, Federal Reserve, for the free trillions; awful swell of you to give us all that free money), there’s no income generated until the billionaire sells some shares. No sale, no income. Just pay yourself $1 a year in salary, borrow against your billions at super-low rates of interest, and voila, you’re tax-free while you build your super-yacht, buy your private island, and so on.
Just as a thought experiment, suppose the first $50,000 in earnings for everyone were tax-free, and a 40% tax rate was collected on all income above $1 million, both earned and unearned (capital gains), not when the gains were realized in a sale but at the end of every tax year, whether the shares that rose in value were sold or not.
So Billionaire Space Tourist reaped $10 billion in capital gains from the appreciation of stocks held, then the Billionaire pays 40% of those gains: $4 billion. There is a way to not pay any taxes on capital gains–have your portfolio lose value. No gains, no taxes. And to close all the loopholes, the tax rate is on all assets and income connected in any way, shape or form with the U.S. First they pay the U.S. taxes, then if they want to pay other nations’ taxes as well, be my guest. But the 40% is due and payable regardless of any other conditions.
You don’t like it, then stop selling any products in the U.S. or holding any assets in the U.S. Why should billionaires get to set up immensely profitable monopolies, quasi-monopolies, cartels and corporations in the U.S. but pay near-zero in taxes? Why should billionaires be free to profit from America’s economy but pay nothing to support its citizenry?
What precisely is the logic of reducing taxes on the wealthiest few to near-zero? If there is no logic, then we’re left with corruption: America is a moral cesspool.
The truth is America has lost its way if commoners pay a rate of 40% but its billionaires pay next to nothing. Please note Karma and Divine Retribution are not controlled by the billionaire’s lackeys and apparatchiks in the Federal Reserve. The pendulum of exploitation has reached its extreme, and the reversal to the opposite extreme is underway.