Ayn Rand USA: In 20 Years Corporate Profits Are Up 4X and Their Taxes Have Fallen by 50% — Meanwhile the Workers’ Payroll Tax Has Doubled

Corporations have decided to let middle-class workers pay for national investments that have largely benefited businesses over the years.

Source: AlterNet

Author: Paul Buchheit

Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” fantasizes a world in which anti-government citizens reject taxes and regulations, and “stop the motor” by withdrawing themselves from the system of production. In a perverse twist on the writer’s theme the prediction is coming true. But instead of productive people rejecting taxes, rejected taxes are shutting down productive people.

Perhaps Ayn Rand never anticipated the impact of unregulated greed on a productive middle class. Perhaps she never understood the fairness of tax money for public research and infrastructure and security, all of which have contributed to the success of big business. She must have known about the inequality of the pre-Depression years. But she couldn’t have foreseen the concurrent rise in technology and globalization that allowed inequality to surge again, more quickly, in a manner that threatens to put the greediest offenders out of our reach.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy suggests that average working people are ‘takers.’ In reality, those in the best position to make money take all they can get, with no scruples about their working class victims, because taking, in the minds of the rich, serves as a model for success. The strategy involves tax avoidance, in numerous forms.

Corporations Stopped Paying

In the past twenty years, corporate profits have quadrupled while the corporate tax percent has dropped by half. The payroll tax, paid by workers, has doubled.

In effect, corporations have decided to let middle-class workers pay for national investments that have largely benefited businesses over the years. The greater part of basic research, especially for technology and health care, has been conducted with government money. Even today 60% of university research is government-supported. Corporations use highways and shipping lanes and airports to ship their products, the FAA and TSA and Coast Guard and Department of Transportation to safeguard them, a nationwide energy grid to power their factories, and communications towers and satellites to conduct online business.

Yet as corporate profits surge and taxes plummet, our infrastructure is deteriorating. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that $3.63 trillion is needed over the next seven years to make the necessary repairs.

Turning Taxes Into Thin Air

Corporations have used numerous and creative means to avoid their tax responsibilities. They have about a year’s worth of profits stashed untaxed overseas. According to the Wall Street Journal, about 60% of their cash is offshore. Yet these corporate ‘persons’ enjoy a foreign earned income exclusion that real U.S. persons don’t get.

Corporate tax haven ploys are legendary, with almost 19,000 companies claiming home office space in one building in the low-tax Cayman Islands. But they don’t want to give up their U.S. benefits. Tech companies in 19 tax haven jurisdictions received $18.7 billion in 2011 federal contracts. A lot of smaller companies are legally exempt from taxes. As of 2008, according to IRS data, fully 69% of U.S. corporations were organized as nontaxablebusinesses.

There’s much more. Companies call their CEO bonuses “performance pay” to get a lower rate. Private equity firms call fees “capital gains” to get a lower rate. Fast food companies call their lunch menus “intellectual property” to get a lower rate.

Prisons and casinos have stooped to the level of calling themselves “real estate investment trusts” (REITs) to gain tax exemptions. Stooping lower yet, Disney and others have added cows and sheep to their greenspace to get a farmland exemption.

The Richest Individuals Stopped Paying

The IRS estimated that 17 percent of taxes owed were not paid in 2006, leaving an underpayment of $450 billion. The revenue loss from tax havens approaches $450 billion. Subsidies from special deductions, exemptions, exclusions, credits, capital gains, and loopholes are estimated at over $1 trillion. Expenditures overwhelmingly benefit the richest taxpayers.

In keeping with Ayn Rand’s assurance that “Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue,” the super-rich are relentless in their quest to make more money by eliminating taxes. Instead of calling their income ‘income,’ they call it “carried interest” or “performance-based earnings” or “deferred pay.” And when they cash in their stock options, they might look up last year’s lowest price, write that in as a purchase date, cash in the concocted profits, and take advantage of the lower capital gains tax rate.

So Who Has To Pay?

Middle-class families. The $2 trillion in tax losses from underpayments, expenditures, and tax havens costs every middle-class family about $20,000 in community benefits, including health care and education and food and housing.

Schoolkids, too. A study of 265 large companies by Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) determined that about $14 billion per year in state income taxes was unpaid over three years. That’s approximately equal to the loss of 2012-13 education funding due to budget cuts.

And the lowest-income taxpayers make up the difference, based on new data that shows that the Earned Income Tax Credit is the single biggest compliance problem cited by the IRS. The average sentence for cheating with secret offshore financial accounts, according to the Wall Street Journal, is about half as long as in some other types of tax cases.

Atlas Can’t Be Found Among the Rich

Only 3 percent of the CEOs, upper management, and financial professionals were entrepreneurs in 2005, even though they made up about 60 percent of the richest .1% of Americans. A recent study found that less than 1 percent of all entrepreneurs came from very rich or very poor backgrounds. Job creators come from the middle class.

So if the super-rich are not holding the world on their shoulders, what do they do with their money? According to both Marketwatch and economist Edward Wolff, over 90 percent of the assets owned by millionaires are held in a combination of low-risk investments (bonds and cash), personal business accounts, the stock market, and real estate.

Ayn Rand’s hero John Galt said, “We are on strike against those who believe that one man must exist for the sake of another.” In his world, Atlas has it easy, with only himself to think about.

Paul Buchheit teaches economic inequality at DePaul University. He is the founder and developer of the Web sites UsAgainstGreed.orgPayUpNow.org and RappingHistory.org, and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.alternet.org/economy/ayn-rand-usa-20-years-corporate-profits-are-4x-and-their-taxes-have-fallen-50-meanwhile?akid=10427.123424.9d7q5C&rd=1&src=newsletter839254&t=5

What If the Greedy Rich Paid Their Share? 8 Things to Know About Wealth and Poverty in the US

We’re far from poor — we just have a wildly lopsided distribution of wealth that makes us seem poor.

From: AlterNet

By:Les Leopold

America is loaded. We are not a struggling nation ready to go under. We are not facing an enormous debt crisis despite what the politicians and pundits proclaim. We are not the next Greece.

Rather, we have an enormous concentration-of-wealth problem — one that must be solved for the good of our commonwealth. We are a very rich nation but it doesn’t seem that way because our wealth is so concentrated in the hands of a few. This is America’s disaster.

But wait. Doesn’t the wealth belong to the super-rich? Didn’t they earn it fair and square? Isn’t that the way it’s always been?

Not by a long shot. The amount of wealth that flows to the super-rich is determined by our public policies. It’s all about how we choose to share our nation’s productivity.

Productivity and the Wealth of Nations

Our country is rich because we are enormously productive as measured by output per hour worked. The greater our collective output per hour, the more our economy produces and the wealthier we are…or should be. It’s not a perfect measure since it doesn’t adequately take into account our environment, our health or our overall well-being. But it is a good gauge of our collective level of effort, skill, knowledge, level of organization, and productive capacity. As the top line on the productivity chart below shows, we’ve been able to produce more and more per hour year after year since WWII. It’s a remarkable achievement.

From 1947 until the mid-1970s, the fruits of our bountiful productivity were shared reasonably fairly with working people. As productivity rose so did workers’ real wages (See the bottom line in the chart below. It represents the average weekly wage of non-supervisory workers who make up about 80 percent of the entire workforce.) This wasn’t socialism. There were still plenty of rich people who earned a significant slice of the productivity harvest. But much of that wealth was plowed back into the economy through taxation rates that between 1947 and 1980 hovered between 70 to 91 percent on incomes over $3 million (in today’s dollars).  Much of that money was used to build our physical and knowledge infrastructures, and to fight the Cold War. Unions were supported by public policy and workers’ real wages rose steadily after accounting for inflation. Wall Street was tightly controlled and the middle-class grew like never before.

Then something happened.

It wasn’t an act of God, or the blind forces of technological change, or the mysterious movements of markets. Nor did the super-rich become enormously smarter than before. Instead, flesh-and-blood policy makers decided that deregulation and tax cuts should become the order of the day starting in the mid-1970s. The idea was that if we cut taxes on the super-rich and deregulated the economy (and especially Wall Street), investment would dramatically increase and all boats would rise. But as we can see from the chart below, the average worker’s wage in real terms stalled and even declined after the mid-’70s. The fruits of productivity no longer were shared equitably. The enormous gap between the two lines (trillions of dollars per year) went almost entirely to the super-rich. The wealth of the wealthy skyrocketed, not by accident, but by policy design. “Greed is good” replaced the middle-class American dream.

What Is Wealth and Who Has It?

Wealth or net worth is the total value of what you own (your assets) minus the total value of your debts (your liabilities.) Our collective net worth is really huge. We’re talking big, big numbers. As of the end of 2011, U.S. households had $30 trillion in private assets and $13.6 trillion in liabilities for a total net worth of $16.4 trillion (PDF). How much is that? It comes to an average of $141,000 per household – free and clear of any debts.

But averages are extremely misleading, because wealth is so highly concentrated at the top. Here are some eye-popping numbers.

1. The number of households with a million dollars or more of net worth grew by 202 percent between 1983 and 2007.

2. The number of households with a net worth of $5 million or more grew by 494 percent.

3. The number of $10 million or more households grew by a whopping 598 percent!

4. There are now more than 464,000 households worth $10 million or more. (PDF)

5. But the bottom 40 percent of American households has a net worth of nearly zero (.2 percent).

6. If you take out the value of our homes, the bottom 40 percent has a negative net worth of minus 1 percent – meaning they owe more than their assets are worth.

7. Meanwhile the top one percent holds 34.6 percent of our total net worth and 42.7 percent of all financial assets (excluding homes).

8. That means that the top one percent has a positive net worth valued at approximately $5,700,000,000,000 (that’s $5.7 trillion).

Why We Need a Financial Transaction Tax

Most Americans live on earned income which is taxed instantly through substantial payroll taxes. You can’t collect a paycheck without paying taxes. The super-rich, however, receive most of their income through financial investments that are taxed at lower capital gains rates and which can be offset through a myriad of deductions and loopholes. In effect, the super-rich live by one tax code and the rest of us use another. This is why the wealthiest Americans pay lower effective tax rates than their servants. It’s also why our government appears to be starved for income. If we want a vibrant economy and good investments in our public infrastructures, the wealthy must pay a great deal more, just like they did during the early post-WWII period.

For starters we need a financial transaction tax which is a small sales tax on each and every financial trade – from stocks and bonds to futures and other derivatives. Since the super-rich hold so many financial assets, this kind of tax would directly target their excessive trading and enormous holdings. Not only would this sales tax produce upwards of $150 billion a year in federal revenue, but also, it may help eliminate much of the financial gambling that took down the economy in 2007. Considerate it a tax on financial toxic waste.

A Wealth Tax to Improve our Commonwealth

Finland, France, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland have small net wealth taxes, and England has had a financial transaction tax for three centuries. We should join them. A 1 to 3 percent wealth tax with a million-dollar deduction would only hit the top 1 percent and would provide the nation with from $50 to $150 billion per year in income. Spare change for the super-rich.

The beauty of a wealth tax is that there are no loopholes. Your assets (which include both foreign and domestic) and your liabilities are easily calculated. It’s easier to spot the cheaters. It’s easier to press for information from other countries that may be tempted to launder money for our super-rich. There’s nowhere to run unless the super-rich want to give up their citizenship.

Even Ronald McKinnon, a conservative economist writing in the Wall Street Journal (“The Conservative Case for a Wealth Tax”) is advocating a wealth tax on the super-rich:

In order to have a fairer tax system, we should implement a new federal wealth tax in addition to the federal income tax. Unlike the current income tax, the wealth tax would not rely on how income is defined. Rather, it would require that households list all their domestic and foreign assets on, say, Dec. 31 in the relevant tax year. With a large exemption of $3 million that effectively excludes more than 95% of the population, a moderate flat tax—say 3%, on wealth so defined—could then be imposed.

Combined with the financial transaction tax, we would have more than $200 to $300 billion per year which could rebuild our crumbing infrastructure, provide higher education for our children, eliminate much of the student loan burden, and hire millions of laid-off teachers. Unemployment would fall dramatically and deficit hysteria would vanish into its own hot air.

We can cry about the distribution of income all we want. We can moan and groan about the top 1 percent and how they have captured political power. We can proclaim our membership in the 99 percent for all to hear. But none of that matters much unless we build a mass movement that reclaims our fair share of the fruits of productivity.

The 1 percent didn’t get there just because they were great entrepreneurs or because they were smarter than the rest of us. They got there because they pressed for tax cuts for the super-rich and the deregulation of Wall Street. Those twin policies poured the money into their coffers and stalled our middle-class dead in its tracks. Those policies also crashed the economy and destroyed the jobs of millions of Americans.

A financial transaction tax combined with a wealth tax will bring us closer to the time when the middle-class again was growing year by year. It would put Americans back to work and place our foot right back on Wall Street’s neck – where it needs to be for the good of us all.

But you know it won’t come easy. The super-rich feel entitled to all they can grab. Which means we’ll have to organize like never before and fight like hell. Let’s hope the 99 percent are ready, able and willing.

Les Leopold is the executive director of the Labor Institute and Public Health Institute in New York, and author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do About It (Chelsea Green, 2009).

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/155025/what_if_the_greedy_rich_paid_their_share_8_things_to_know_about_wealth_and_poverty_in_the_us?akid=8614.123424.KaUfyN&rd=1&t=5

No longer the land of opportunity

From: Washington Post

By: Harold Meyerson.

““Over the past three years, Barack Obama has been replacing our merit-based society with an Entitlement Society,” Mitt Romney wrote in USA Today last month. The coming election, Romney told Wall Street Journal editors last month, will be “a very simple choice” between Obama’s “European social democratic” vision and “a merit-based opportunity society — an American-style society — where people earn their rewards based on their education, their work, their willingness to take risks and their dreams.”

Romney’s assertions are the centerpiece of his, and his party’s, critique not just of Obama but of American liberalism generally. But they fail to explain how and why the American economy has declined the past few decades — in good part because they betray no awareness that Europe’s social democracies now fit the description of “merit-based opportunity societies” much more than ours does.

The best way to measure a nation’s merit-based status is to look at its intergenerational economic mobility: Do children move up and down the economic ladder based on their own abilities, or does their economic standing simply replicate their parents’? Sadly, as the American middle class has thinned out over recent decades, the idea of America as the land of opportunity has become a farce. As a paper by Julia Isaacs of the Brookings Institution has shown, sons’ earnings approximate those of their fathers about three times more frequently in the United States than they do in Denmark, Norway and Finland, and about 11 / 2 times more frequently than they do in Germany. The European social democracies — where taxes, entitlements and the rate of unionization greatly exceed America’s — are demonstrably more merit-based than the United States.

That’s hardly the only measure by which Europe’s social democracies demonstrate more dynamism than our increasingly sclerotic plutocracy. Unemployment rates in Northern European nations — as of October, Germany’s unemployment rate was 6.5 percent; the Netherlands, 4.8 percent; Sweden 7.4 percent — are substantially lower than ours (9 percent then). Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Germany in particular have sizable trade surpluses, while the United States runs the largest trade deficits in human history.

There are, of course, a multitude of reasons the nations of Northern Europe are outperforming us. But if entitlements and social democracy were anywhere near the impediments to enterprise that Romney claims, Germany would hardly be the most successful economy in the advanced industrial world, with those of Scandinavia close behind.

The secrets of social democracy’s successes are in plain view. In Scandinavia, government commitment to worker retraining and job relocation mean that there is no major political pressure to keep failing firms in business; it’s a policy that favors innovative start-ups. In Germany, management and unions cooperate to upgrade their products and their processes — partly because corporate boards consist of equal numbers of management and worker representatives. Germany’s surge in exports may be partly attributable to its union workers agreeing to hold their wages flat (at levels still well above those of their U.S. counterparts). But their workers’ willingness to sacrifice in order to stay competitive is surely increased by the fact that their CEOs on average make just 11 times as much as their workers. In the United States, chief executives make roughly 200 to 300 times (choose your survey) as much as their average employees’ salary.

Which brings us back to Romney’s characterization of our country as a merit-based society and his failure to notice the huge changes in economic rewards over the past three decades. During the 30 years after World War II, the average American family’s income doubled, while chief executives’ income was restrained, increasing by less than 1 percent annually, according to a 2010 paper by economists Carola Frydman and Raven Saks. Beginning around 1980, however, as unions were smashed, industry moved offshore and executive pay skyrocketed, the incomes of most Americans began to flatten or decline, while financiers and corporate leaders were able to claim more and more of the nation’s income for themselves.

Corporate leaders have been rewarded with huge payouts even when their corporation’s performance has been disappointing. Conversely, millions of Americans have maintained or upgraded their skills yet seen their jobs shipped abroad or downgraded. Is this a description of a merit-based society? How does it compare with that of mid-century America, when the rewards for work were distributed more broadly?

Romney and his Bain Capital buddies may view their wealth as the just rewards endemic to successful people in a merit-based society. But why are so few Americans sharing in those rewards today while so many Americans shared in them 40 years ago? Are most Americans no longer meritorious? Or has our country ceased to reward any but the rich and powerful?

meyersonh@washpost.com

Emphasis Mine

see:http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/no-longer-the-land-of-opportunity/2012/01/02/gIQAOJVDZP_story.html?wpisrc=nl_opinions