Liquid error: undefined method `select!' for #<ContentNode::ActiveRecord_Associations_CollectionProxy:0x0000561659823cf8> Did you mean? select _select!

Posts from

How The Super-Rich Avoid Paying Their Share

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

We have a great deal of statistical data, in America today, about the economic circumstances of Americans who live in poverty. We know far less, by contrast, about Americans who live amid great wealth. And much of what we do know, suggests a revealing new study, turns out to be wrong.

America’s wealthiest, this new study details, almost certainly hold substantially greater personal fortunes than our standard analyses of the nation’s distribution of wealth indicate.

What are these conventional analyses not taking into account? A simple reality of our deeply unequal age: Extravagantly wealthy people cheat on their taxes. Regularly. Extravagantly, too. Our super rich are stashing vast chunks of their personal fortunes in offshore tax havens, generating billions annually in new income that — to their governments — goes unseen and untaxed.

Just how enormous has this tax evasion by the super rich become? University of California-Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman and his Scandinavian colleagues Annette Alstadsæter and Niels Johannesen calculate — in a just-published American Economic Review paper — that offshore tax havens are enabling our world’s richest 0.01 percent to evade 25 percent of the income taxes they ought to be paying.

The holdings of this wealthiest one-hundredth of 1 percent, the three researchers relate, make up about 50 percent of the overall assets parked in tax havens. The super rich are using these havens, add Zucman and his colleagues, to conceal about 40 percent of their total personal fortunes.

The most recent Federal Reserve Board figures on U.S. inequality, released this past March, put the top 1 percent’s share of American personal wealth at 32 percent, up from 23 percent in 1989. Other estimates place the top 1 percent share closer to 40 percent. But with the new calculations from Zucman and his colleagues, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy’s Matthew Gardner reflects, even this 40 percent estimate could well be a distinctly “low-ball number.”

But can we trust the numbers from the Zucman team? After all, how could a mere trio of researchers unearth hidden fortunes that the super rich spend big bucks to keep hidden? These three particular researchers had some unconventional assistance.

Over recent years, whistleblowers at some of the private banks and legal firms that cater to wealthy tax evaders — remember the “Panama Papers”? — have exposed vast stores of financial records that document the daily nitty-gritty of tax-evading transactions. The Zucman team tapped these records.

More ...

A Nation Where Only The Rich Have Homes?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

In our daily lives, as anyone who keeps a household budget can attest, the unexpected happens all the time. A refrigerator motor fails. Some part on your car you never realized existed breaks down. A loved one passes away and you have to — you want to — be at the funeral a thousand miles away.

“Unexpected” expenses like these will, sooner or later, hit all of us. But all of us, says new research out of the Federal Reserve, can’t afford them.

In fact, just under 40 percent of Americans, says the Fed’s sixth annual household economics survey, “would have difficulty handling an emergency expense as small as $400.”

A fifth of American adults, the new Fed study adds, had major unexpected medical bills last year. An even larger share of Americans — one quarter — “skipped necessary medical care in 2018 because they were unable to afford the cost.”

Meanwhile, 17 percent of American adults can’t afford to pay all their monthly bills, even if they don’t experience an unexpected expense.

The new Fed report offers no anecdotal color, just waves of carefully collected statistical data. For a sense of what these stats mean in human terms, we need only look around where we live, particularly if we live in one of the many metro areas where inequality is squeezing millions of Americans who once considered themselves solidly “middle class.” Places like the Bay Area in California.

San Francisco, recent research shows, now has more billionaires per capita than any other city in the world. By one reckoning, San Francisco also has the highest cost of living in the world, as all those billionaires — and the rest of the city’s ultra rich — bid up prices on the most desirable local real estate.

But the Bay Area squeeze goes beyond the confines of San Francisco. Nearby Oakland and Berkeley are facing enormous affordable housing shortages as well. The Bay Area as a whole now has more than 30,000 homeless.

More ...

A Few Hundred Million Good Reasons Not to Care

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Millions of American families are still reeling from the aftershocks of the financial crash a dozen years ago. But a key architect of that debacle, Countrywide Financial CEO Angelo Mozilo, is feeling no pain — and no remorse either. In the decade before the crash, Mozilo took $650 million out of Countrywide, a hefty chunk of that just before the subprime mortgage scam Countrywide exploited started to implode. Earlier this month, Angelo described Countrywide as a “great company” at a conference appearance and declared subprimes as “not the cause at all” of the nation’s 2007-2008 financial wreckage. Added Mozilo: “Somehow — for some unknown reason — I got blamed.” The former CEO is acknowledging that all the blame did at one point bother him. And now? The famously always tanned Mozilo notes simply: “I don’t care.” 

***

A Plaintive Plea from America’s Rich: Can We Please Change the Subject?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

America’s elites have for decades now enjoyed — and exploited — a mainstream political consensus.  America is doing just fine, this consensus has held, but just not for everybody. We have some poor, unfortunate souls in our midst, the consensus continues, and decency demands more “opportunity” for them.

Aspiring politicians have always loved this opportunity message. They can spout it and sound compassionate and caring to the voting public. The message’s more important attraction: Pols can spout it and not in any way come across as threatening to the deep pockets they count on for campaign cash.

The rich, after all, simply adore the mainstream “opportunity” gospel. Talking about increasing opportunity distracts attention from how rich people — and the corporations they run — behave, how what the rich do to become and stay rich keeps poor people poor and most of the rest of us struggling.

But this mainstream political consensus has over recent years collapsed. Precious few analysts are still claiming that the nation is doing “just fine.” The United States these days is essentially working well only for the rich, and appreciable numbers of Americans no longer just wonder why. They’re demanding checks on grand private fortunes and the behaviors that pump these fortunes up.

All this has today’s rich worrying. Really worrying. Recent headlines tell the story. From the Financial Times: “Why American CEOs are worried about capitalism.” The Guardian: “The kings of capitalism are finally worried about the growing gap between rich and poor.” The Washington Post: “U.S. billionaires worry about the survival of the system that made them rich.”

More ...

Gentrification Now Has More than Landlubbers Worried

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

We typically think urban neighborhoods when we think gentrification. We think places where modest-income families have thrived for generations suddenly becoming no-go zones for all but the affluent.

The waters around us have always seemed a place of escape from all this displacement, a more democratic space where the rich can stake no claim. The wealthy, after all, can’t displace someone fishing on a lake or sailing off the coast. Or can they? People who work and play around our waters are starting to worry.

Local boat dealers and bass fishing aficionados alike, reports one leading marine industry trade journal, are all now “expressing concern about the growing income disparity in the United States.” That journal, Soundings Trade Only, is even highlighting stats that show America’s top 1 percent holding more wealth than “the bottom 90 percent of the population combined.”

What has boat dealers so concerned? The middle-class families they’ve counted on for decades are feeling too squeezed to buy their boats — or even continue boating.

“Boating has now priced out the middle-class buyer,” one retailer opined to a Soundings Trade Only survey. “Only the near rich/very rich can boat.”

Mark Jeffreys, a high school finance teacher who hosts a popular bass fishing webcast, sees a bubble close to bursting. His pastime is getting too pricey, and he wonderswhen bass anglers are “going to get to the point where they’re not going to pay $9 for crankbait.”

Not everyone around water is worrying. The companies that build boats, Jeffreys notes, seem to “have been able to do very well.” They’re making fewer boats but clearing “a tremendous amount” on the boats they do make.

More ...

A Shrill Health Insurance Chief Goes in for the Kill

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

UnitedHealth CEO David Wichmann doesn’t much like all the talk going around these days about “Medicare for All.” In comments to stock analysts earlier this month, Wichmann intoned that proposals for Medicare for All would, if enacted, “destabilize the nation’s health system” and “surely have a severe impact on the economy and jobs.” He’ll likely prove right about the severity of that impact on his job. Medicare for All proposals introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Pramila Jayapal envision absolutely no role for private insurance execs who take home $83.2 million a year, Wichmann’s 2017 realized compensation. Share prices at UnitedHealth have nosedived since Sanders introduced his latest Medicare for All bill, as have shares at other big insurers. Their gravy train is clearly slowing. But what lush gravy that train has carried! Over the last decade, a business group has reported, average executive pay at leading U.S. health insurers has been growing at an annual 13 percent rate.

***

Plutocracies as Problem-Solvers (for the Privileged)

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

We all know how democracies are supposed to work: People come together, identify their common problems, then debate and decide solutions. But this elegant give-and-take can break down. What breaks it? Inequality. Democratic deliberations start going haywire whenever wealth starts furiously concentrating at a society’s summit.

In societies growing significantly more unequal, people simply share ever fewer common problems. And some people, thanks to their increasing wealth, have the political power to make their problems the problems their society addresses.

And what happens to the problems of people without grand private fortune? Their problems go ignored. Democracy becomes plutocracy.

In our contemporary United States, we see this plutocratic dynamic play out all the time. Oxfam, the activist global charity, has just offered up a particularly vivid example: the crisis around prescription drugs.

For Americans of modest means, prescription drugs have emerged as a top-tier problem on any number of fronts. Start with cost. The drugs doctors prescribe have become so expensive that millions of Americans can’t afford to buy all the pills their doctors want them to take.

Meanwhile, drug companies have become drug pushers, overselling the benefits and shortchanging the hazards of profitable painkilling medications, in the process creating an opioid epidemic that has devastated millions of American households — and communities.

Big Pharma’s relentless chase after profits drives and distorts medical research agendas, too. On cancer, for instance, drug companies will only conduct costly clinical trials on substances that can be patented and pay off in big earnings. Promising but unpatentable natural substances can’t deliver big profits. So they don’t get tested. They remain on the medical fringes, their curative potential untapped.

More ...

On Capitol Hill: A Clueless Big-Bank Top Executive

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

As CEO of banking giant JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon has ultimate budget responsibility for a mega-billion-dollar enterprise. But last week, testifying before Congress, Dimon declined to take any responsibility for — or show much interest in — the budget challenges JPMorgan workers face. Rep. Katie Porter of California asked Dimon what advice he’d give an entry-level JPMorgan employee with a child who lives in a one-bedroom in her district that rents for a monthly $1,600. After food, child care, and other basic expenses, the $2,425 the worker takes home monthly from JPMorgan leaves her $567 in the red. Dimon at first quipped that the entry-level worker just “may have my job one day.” Maybe, replied Porter, but right now she’s doesn’t have “your $31 million” to spend. Porter went on to press for a helpful budgeting suggestion. Replied Dimon: “I don’t know. I’d have to think about that.”

 ***

The Tax-the-Rich Ideas Just Keep Coming

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Serious societal change typically only takes place when the pressure for change hits “critical mass.” At one level, we’ve had critical mass for years now on seriously taxing America’s rich. Polls regularly show broad public support for having our wealthiest pay quite a bit more at tax time.

But we haven’t had critical mass on taxing the rich within our political class. That finally may be changing. High-profile pols old and new have of late been one-upping each other with sober proposals for trimming the super rich down to a much more manageable democratic size.

The latest significant player to add to this growing political class critical mass: U.S. Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon. He’s just announced his intention to push a bold new tax on capital gains.

Most Americans know precious little about capital gains income because most Americans get precious little income from capital gains. On average, capital gains income — profits from the sale of stocks, bonds, and other assets — makes up just 6.1 percent of the dollars Americans report on their tax returns.

But this average wildly overstates how much income everyday households collect from capital gains. In 2016, the latest year with IRS stats, capital gains made up a miniscule 0.7 percent of the income for households earning less than $100,000. Households making over $10 million, by contrast, counted on capital gains for nearly half, 46.4 percent, of their income.

The richest of our rich, our top 0.001 percent, grab an even higher income share, 55.1 percent, from capital games.

These fabulously rich don’t just grab the overwhelming bulk of the nation’s capital gain dollars. Our tax code gives them and their capital gains preferential treatment. A dollar of income from salary and wages can currently face a tax rate of up to 37 percent. A dollar of capital gains income never faces a tax slice more than 23.8 percent.

More ...

A ‘Buyback’ for Our Future?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

People who are trying to do good — with a Green New Deal, for instance, or Medicare for All — regularly find themselves confronting a simple and sometimes sneering gotcha question: So where’s the money coming from?

How about we start putting this same simple question to the top executives of Corporate America?

These execs are currently spending incredibly vast sums buying back their own companies’ shares of stock off the open market. In 2018, researchers at Dow Jones report, 444 of America’s top 500 firms spent dollars on stock buybacks. Lots of dollars: $806.4 billion in all, up 55 percent over the year before and up 37 percent over the previous all-time buyback annual record high.

These stock buybacks have no redeeming social value. Buybacks don’t make corporations more efficient or effective. They just make the rich richer. Buybacks reduce the volume of shares that trade, in the process upping earnings per share and share value. Who benefits from these upticks? Top corporate execs see an immediate boost. Over 80 percent of their pay comes from stock-based compensation.

The wealthy overall benefit, too. America’s top 1 percent, researchers at Goldman Sachs observed earlier this year, now own half of all the nation’s shares of stocks, with nearly 85 percent in the pockets of America’s wealthiest 10 percent.

More ...

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

More ...

A Friendly Reminder

A Friendly Reminder