My favorite authority on taxes is David Cay Johnston of The New York
Times, who won a Pulitzer for reporting on the terminally unsexy topic
of taxes. His book "Perfectly Legal -- The Covert Campaign to Rig Our
Tax System to Benefit the Super-Rich -- and Cheat Everyone Else" is the
single best work on public policy of recent years, I think.
Johnston reports: "Through explicit policies, as well as tax laws
never reported in the news, Congress now literally takes money from those
making $30,000 to $500,000 per year and funnels it in subtle ways to the
super-rich -- the top one-one hundredth of one percent of Americans.
"People making $60,000 paid a larger share of their 2001 income in
federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes than a family making
$25 million, the latest Internal Revenue Service data show. And in income
taxes alone, people making $400,000 paid a larger share of their
incomes than the 7,000 households who made $10 million or more."
The rest of us are subsidizing not only the super-rich, but also
corporations. Fifty years ago, corporations paid 60 percent of all federal
taxes. But by 2003, that was down to 16 percent. So individual taxpayers
have to make up the difference, as corporate profits soar and wages
As more and more rich people cheat on their taxes, the IRS is
increasingly unable to go after them because it is so poorly funded.
For all this, we can thank the Republican Party.
Every year at this time, conservatives moan and groan and tell us how
terribly, terribly overburdened we are by taxes. We wouldn't be
overburdened if the tax code hadn't been rewritten by Republicans, and if
Republicans hadn't weakened the IRS so much it can barely function. Damn
right, this is a partisan effort. And damn right, I'm bitter about it. We
don't need to raise taxes in this country, we need to collect them. We
need tax cuts that don't favor the obscenely rich. You are getting
OK, now that I've gotten that rant off my chest, back to how it's
done. Johnston: "One 1985 law, promoted in the Senate as relieving middle
class Americans, gave a huge tax break to corporate executives who make
personal use of company jets. CEOs may now fly to vacations or Saturday
golf outings in luxury for a penny a mile. Congress shifted the real
cost of about $6 per mile to shareholders, who pay two-thirds, and to
taxpayers, who suffer the cost lost as a result of reduced corporate
"Since 1988, Congress has also cut in half the Internal Revenue
Service's capacity to enforce tax laws, replacing it with extra effort to
reduce audits of corporations and the rich.
"On March 30, Congress was told that 78 percent of known tax cheats in
investment partnerships are not even asked to pay because there are not
enough tax collectors to go after them."
The IRS oversight board asked for money to go after these cheaters,
but both Congress and President Bush refused. The IRS's computer system
was installed when John Kennedy was president.
The Senate budget currently under consideration includes $129 billion
in new tax breaks for millionaires and a $2.8 billion cut in farm and
nutrition programs (i.e., food stamps). Which do you think is more
important? The House has already passed a budget that cuts at least $15
billion for Medicaid and $5.3 billion from food stamps.
I have long held that W. Bush does not believe changing government
policies can actually wreck people's lives -- he thinks it's a game, and
the Democrats are just the other team. But if you believe the shift in
the tax burden in this country -- and the consequent separation of a
tiny, ever-richer minority from the rest of us -- doesn't have real
effects, you're blind.
When you cut housing subsidies, you get more homeless people. When you
cut food stamps, you get more hungry people. In 2002, at least 25.5
million people went to soup kitchens and food pantries. In 2003, 1.1
million more joined the lines. As unemployment and other government programs
run out, even more will be standing on line. Last year, America got a
pay cut. Wages for the average worker fell, after adjusting for
inflation -- the first such drop in 10 years. That means the standard of living
for most Americans is in decline.
The country becomes less and less fair, and equality of opportunity
grows farther away ever day. Again, I don't think Republicans are doing
this because they are mean, but because they have convinced themselves
that people shouldn't be "dependent" on government, that it's bad for
their moral fiber. Only corporations and the super-rich should get
welfare and subsidies.
As economist John Kenneth Galbraith put it, "The modern conservative
is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that
is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."
© 2005 Creators Syndicate