It’s been a week since news of the Paradise Papers broke and there’s been very little reaction, nothing beyond a few op-ed pieces calling for change in the usual places (the Guardian, NY Times). No calls for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to step down. No outrage from… well, from anyone as far as I can tell. Nothing resembling the Occupy’s “We are the 99%” outrage. Crickets. I’ve not even seen anything in the liberal circle jerk that is my Facebook feed. No mention of the papers or taxes in conjunction with my many friend’s regular anti-Trump screeds.
Which is ironic, because as repulsive as Trump is, he and his ilk are but symptoms of the larger problem: unchecked, unaccountable wealth that co-opts laws, political systems and governments into working solely on the behalf of the rich, to the detriment of the greater good a.k.a. the rest of us. The difference with Trump being that he adds a hypocritical, racist, nationalist dogma to his brand of rich person advocacy. Anti-Trump people should be all over the Paradise papers.
Maybe the idea of American citizens exploiting tax havens is too dense for people to grab onto. Did I really expect people to riot in the streets? And would that accomplish anything? No, it wouldn’t. Still, I personally find the revelations distressing. It’s not like I never imagined that the kind of wealth that’s revealed by the papers existed. I did. I assumed so. What I didn’t imagine was the Commerce Secretary of the United States not sweating the fact that he is profiting from his partial ownership of a Russian petro shipping company, nor his failure to disclose it when he was appointed.
I’m not exactly sure why having documentation that shows American billionaires not paying taxes on money parked offshore changes things. But it does. It’s not right. And to have it documented, for all of us to see, says that we can and should do something about it. Maybe it’s a similar phenomenon to the Weinstein fiasco. We can’t ignore the existence of what we’ve all pretty much assumed was going on, because the evidence is right freaking there. There’s no way we can continue to hope it’s not true.
The papers reveal that wealthy Americans of all sorts, including members of government – people who have pledged to put the public’s welfare before their own – are not paying taxes on money held (nominally, imaginarily) overseas. They do it because it is legal for them to do so and they are greedy. They are allowed to park a business via a shell company in a p.o. box in Bermuda and pay 0% tax on their interest in that business. They only pay on the profits they bring home. And let me add the requisite qualifier: I believe personal and corporate agency and innovation has every right to be richly rewarded. But I also think if you are a citizen you should be taxed on your wealth, all of your wealth. Not just part of it.
The argument gets more complicated when it comes to corporations, but the idea, the morality of it, holds firm, pay your share. Ok, but business is a dog-eat-dog race to the bottom endeavor a theoretical butt-munch might argue. Well maybe so, but I would counter that rates are low enough already. See this article in regard to the paradise papers, tax avoidance and the current Republican tax plan in the NY Times today. Business already pays an absurdly low share of our tax receipts (1.6% of the national total). The buck needs to stop somewhere. It’s working stiffs in the lower and middle classes that pay the majority of American taxes. Not the rich. Not the corporations. There should be a price for citizenship and businesses and the wealthy should pay their fair share. You know Trump doesn’t. Or maybe he does. But via his choice not to disclose his taxes we may never know.
If you want to be a citizen of this country, then you deserve to be taxed at a fair rate. There should be no more tax free zones for Americans, (or for the world frankly). No access to the Bermuda’s, the Isles of Jersey’s, etc. No fortune of any measurable size at this stage of our planet’s development should be allowed to ride for free and certainly not one owned by an American (even one held in a shell company).
All fortunes deserve to be taxed and we have the technology to enforce such laws were they to be written. Nobody – including Apple, Wilbur Ross (pictured above, our current Commerce Secretary), the Queen of England or Bono (all of the people I just named were included in the Paradise papers), should ride for free. It’s not right. They should all be paying somewhere. It may be naïve, but when 141,000 people on earth have more than 50 million dollars (half of them residing in the United States) those people can afford to be taxed on all their wealth, not just part. And we should start right here at home. Rich Americans reap huge rewards from their citizenship (intellectual property protections, access to hard won trade agreements, our courts, to name just a few of the benefits). If you want to be an American, then pay taxes like an American. It’s hypocritical to behave otherwise, not patriotic, as our sham of a president would postulate.
I’m not saying anything earth shattering here. This is common sense shit. And perhaps naïve, but have at it, tell me why I’m wrong. I can guess some of the counter-arguments but I guess I’m a lazy op-ed writer, so screw you, you wanna-be tax cheat. This blog post will probably go unread anyway, but what the hell else am I going to do? Inequality pisses me off. Better to write it down than ruminate in the middle of the night. I might as well throw it against the wall and see how it looks 6 months, a year, two years down the line.
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