Guest Blog by Jonathan Shapiro
This post is about the rising level of income inequality in this country , its relationship to taxes, both corporate and individual , and the effect that it has on the ability of a very few people with big money, including corporations, to exert control over our political process.
You can join us tonight: Friday, February 17, 7:30 PM for a workshop on progressive tax reform, both national and state and what effort is now under way in New York to reform corporate income tax laws. Our indoor space is at 472 Madison Ave, Albany.
More info about the event here
As everyone knows, a recent GAO report documented just how much the income of the top 1% has grown compared to the rest of us. What you might be surprised to know is that a 2010 CIA report placed the United States 93 out of 133 countries in income disparity, somewhere between Iran and Mexico.
Why should we care?
Aside from the obvious reasons, income disparity is bad for the economy. According to an April study by Berg and Ostry, writing for the IMF, income inequality has a negative effect on the economy, a large negative effect. They conclude by saying that “over the longer horizon, reducing income inequality and sustained growth maybe two halves of the same coin.”
Now the question of taxes.
I pay them. You pay them, but apparently, despite a supposedly high corporate tax rate of 35%, many corporations do not, according to a recent study by the Citizens for Tax Justice, as cited in the NY Times and Washing ton Post. Examples include Boeing, GE, PG&E, and Verizon to name a few, for the period of 2008-10, and yet these same corporations spent over $261 million lobbying during this same time. And of course, part of what they lobby for is a continuation of tax breaks and loopholes, such as offshore tax shelters , the later of which, according to the US Public Interest Research Group, cost taxpayers approximately $100 billion a year in lost revenue. So the 35% is more or less a joke.
Regarding personal income tax, the United States supposedly uses a system of “progressive taxation, “ meaning that as you make more money, you pay a larger share of your income to the government. However in 1950, the top tax rate was 90% and now it is 35%, the lowest since the great stock market crash in the 1920’s. I say supposedly, because although our tax structure still appears progressive, this is much less true the higher one goes on the income ladder. A person making 100,000 pays 30.2% in taxes, if they make 141,000, they pay 31.2%, at 245,000, 31.6%, and the kicker, at $1.3 Mil, 30.8%. These figures include federal , state, and local taxes.
It is a commonly held belief among economic conservatives that taxes, by definition, strangle economic growth. This line of attack has been used to successfully slash taxes, benefitting the superrich far more than the rest of us. We have been lowering taxes for decades and in the process have seen a ballooning national debt, persistent unemployment , galloping income disparity, several booms, and just as many busts. So, the idea that low taxes promote growth should be debunked once and for all. Today we are seeing the results of the anti-tax and free market orthodoxy: the government is broke, our infrastructure becomes more like the Third World every day, and the middle-class is fast doing a disappearing act.
Why is nothing being done? MONEY
Money to finance political campaigns, money for lobbyists, money for access. And who has by far the most money, the top one percent, corporations, and last, but certainly not least, Wall Street. How many politicians, including Democrats , are essentially bought and paid for by influence peddling organizations and individuals that, not surprisingly, want to promote their OWN interests. I repeat, their interests, not ours. Not the interests of the 99%.
An example might be The Club for Growth, a conservative political organization which spent a staggering 8.2 Mil in 2010 helping Republicans who supported their anti-tax agenda and assisting challengers to unseat RINO’s who wavered in their anti-tax orthodoxy. They also, despite having a stated goal of improving the business climate, opposed raising the debt ceiling.
Then there’s Grover Norquist, whose organization, Americans for Tax Reform, has convinced 238 House members and 41 Senators to sign a pledge never to raise taxes.And then , the Koch brothers. And then, etc., The list goes on and on ad naseum.
Our political system is rigged by money. OUR DEMOCRACY IS FAST BECOMING THEIR KLEPTOCRACY.
We need’ to adopt a system limiting the influence of lobbyists and special interests through public financing. We need to adopt a truly progressive tax system in order to level the playing field, and only at that point might we begin to overcome the influence wielded by the super-rich.
The fact is, we already have a class war in this country and the 99% is losing.