Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

36 hours left in this Mid-Year Campaign. This is our hour of need.
If you value independent journalism, please support Common Dreams.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

How Entitlements for the Rich Cheat the Rest of Us

Paul Buchheit

The word 'entitlement' is ambiguous. For working people it means "earned benefits." For the rich, the concept of entitlement is compatible with the Merriam-Webster definition: "The feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges)." Recent studies agree, concluding that higher social class is associated with increased entitlement and narcissism.



The sense of entitlement among the very rich is understandable, for it helps them to justify the massive redistribution of wealth that has occurred over the past 65 years, especially in the past 30 years. National investment in infrastructure, technology, and security has made America a rich country. The financial industry has used our publicly-developed communications technology to generate trillions of dollars in new earnings, while national security protects their interests. The major beneficiaries have convinced themselves they did it on their own. They believe they're entitled to it all.



Their entitlements can be summarized into four categories, each of which reveals clear advantages that the very rich take for granted.



1. Income: Mocking Our 'Progressive' Tax System



Americans who earn millions of dollars a year feel entitled to the same maximum tax rate as those making about $400,000 a year. Progressive taxation stops at that point. In fact, it reverses itself, with the highest earners paying lower tax rates. The richest 10% pay about 20 percent in federal taxes, and it goes down from there, with the richest 400 paying less than 20 percent. When all taxes are included (payroll, sales, state and local), the super-rich pay about the same percentage as America's middle and upper-middle classes.



Corporations feel entitled to lower taxes, too, having cut their income tax rate in half in just ten years. The companies that have benefited the most from public research have become skilled tax avoiders.



Some corporate CEOs feel entitled to total freedom from taxes, employing a noble-sounding strategy of a $1 per year salary to avoid federal income taxes. It allows them to defer all capital gains taxes on their stock holdings, which can be used, if cash is needed, as collateral for low-interest loans.



2. Wealth: Trillions in Financial Gains, Zero Tax



America has gained $16 trillion in financial wealth over the past five years, with 80-90 percent of that gain going to the richest 10%, for many of whom productive labor may have been limited to checking their online portfolios. America is gaining in wealth because of technological infrastructure and a deregulated financial industry that uses the technology to capture most of those gains.



There is no tax on all that wealth. Capital gains can be deferred indefinitely, and then another entitlement comes into play: the lower capital gains rate, purportedly meant to stimulate new business investment, but in large part failing to do that. The nation's wealth needs to be distributed more equitably among productive citizens, ideally by allowing everyone to share in the capital of companies that use our nationally developed technologies.



3. Financial Transactions: Trillions in Speculative Purchases, Zero Tax



As Forbes notes, the hundreds of trillions of dollars of speculative financial transactions constitute "a massive financial accident waiting to happen, yet again."



We pay a sales tax of up to 10 percent on boots and mittens for the kids, But not a penny of sales tax is paid on U.S. financial transactions, which may be valued as high as three quadrillion dollars annually, or over three thousand times the deficit. No sales tax is paid despite the high-risk nature of "flash trading" that can lose entire pension funds in a few seconds.



The trading industry feels entitled to tax-free purchases, claiming that even a tiny sales tax will decrease liquidity, or slow the economy, or constitute a sin tax. Yet it's an easily administered tax that has been imposed in some of the freest economies in the world.



4. Subsidies: Alms for the Rich



About two-thirds of nearly $1 trillion in individual "tax expenditures" (deductions, exemptions, exclusions, credits, capital gains, and loopholes) goes to the top quintile of taxpayers.



At the corporate level, tens of billions of dollars go in subsidies to the fossil fuel, fishing, and agricultural industries. Fossil fuel subsidies may be much, much more. The IMF reports U.S. fossil fuel subsidies of $502 billion, and according to Grist, even this is an underestimate.



Cheated



There's more. A regressive payroll tax, an almost nonexistent estate tax, the lower capital gains rate on carried interest for investment managers, trillions socked away in tax havens -- all involve tax avoidance by wealthy Americans who feel entitled to their privileged positions.



Entitlements for the rich mean cuts in safety net programs for children, women, retirees, and low-income families. They threaten Social Security. They redirect money from infrastructure repair, education, and job creation.



And the more the super-rich take from us, the greater their belief that they're entitled to the wealth we all helped to create.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit

Paul Buchheit is an advocate for social and economic justice, and the author of numerous papers on economic inequality and cognitive science. He was recently named one of 300 Living Peace and Justice Leaders and Models. He is the author of "American Wars: Illusions and Realities" (2008) and "Disposable Americans: Extreme Capitalism and the Case for a Guaranteed Income" (2017). Contact email: paul (at) youdeservefacts.org.

Just ONE DAY left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

'We Will Fight! We Will Win!': Nearly 200 Abortion Rights Defenders Arrested in DC

"If people don't see the rage," said one woman at the protest, "nothing changes."

Jon Queally ·


Federal Abortion Ban Desired by GOP Would Increase Maternal Deaths by 24%: Study

"Pregnancy shouldn't kill people—in fact, in other rich countries it very rarely does," said the lead author of the new analysis.

Jake Johnson ·


Naomi Klein: The US Is in the Midst of a 'Shock-and-Awe Judicial Coup'

"The rolling judicial coup coming from this court is by no means over," warned the author of "The Shock Doctrine."

Jake Johnson ·


Markey, Bowman Join Climate Coalition in Urging SCOTUS Expansion

"We cannot sit idly by," said Markey, "as extremists on the Supreme Court eviscerate the authorities that the government has had for decades to combat climate change and reduce pollution."

Brett Wilkins ·


Ocasio-Cortez Says US 'Witnessing a Judicial Coup in Process'

"It is our duty to check the Court's gross overreach of power in violating people's inalienable rights and seizing for itself the powers of Congress and the president."

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo