Wednesday, January 25, 2012

American Tax Dodgers

On January 12, I posted some comments about Les Leopold's recent article on tricks the corporate use to hoard wealth. I referred to economic productivity and how the gains are no longer being shared with the middle class.

He also highlighted how large corporations, despite the endless bleating about high corporate taxes, often pay little or no taxes. Specifically he noted how low state and local corporate taxes have become. As Leopold says:
Large corporations pay next to nothing in state and local taxes. As a result of the Wall Street-created crash, state and local governments are struggling to make up for lost revenues and rising costs to care for the jobless and the destitute. In a fair society we would be asking Wall Street to pay for the damage it created. Instead, Wall Street has used its enormous lobbying muscle to make sure politicians are asking states to cut back public services of all kinds. Meanwhile, large corporations use every trick in the book to avoid paying state and local taxes. A recent joint report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy and Citizens for Tax Justice reveals that 265 large corporations avoided $42.7 billion in taxes from 2008 to 2010. That’s enough money to hire more than one million teachers! Instead, we are firing teachers in the name of fiscal austerity.
 The full report to which Leopold refers is at The Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy.  The reports should make clear that whatever other problems ail the US, overtaxed corporations isn't one of them. Citizens for Tax Justice also offers a compendium of how America's most profitable companies pay taxes dramatically lower than the advertised rate; for many, the US tax code has become a profit center, one more way to privatize benefits and socialize costs.

The idea, which every Republican presidential candidate has made at one time or another, that America's high corporate tax rate of 35% is killing the economy should be put to rest by a simple observation at the next debate followed up by a blunt question: 
"You do realize that corporate profits have grown enormously, along with executive compensation?" 

"Are you so naive that you actually believe corporations pay a 35% tax rate?" 
It really is no different at the state level. They game the system at the federal level and at the state level. A more detailed analysis of how corporations avoid taxes while they capture subsidies and other benefits paid by taxpayers, in particular how they play one state or municipality off against another, can be found in Greg LeRoy's well-researched book: The Great American Job Scam: Corporate Tax Dodging and the Myth of Job Creation.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Amend 2012

It was two years ago this week when five corporatists on the US Supreme Court made the ludicrous argument that corporations are people and that not allowing them to spend unlimited money on political campaigns would be denying them their right, as people, to free speech. Thanks to their ruling in Citizens United vs. FEC, not only do rich people have more free speech, corporations do now as well. And since we do not hinder free speech, we cannot hinder the free flow of money into politics. Corporations can now buy elections and politicians more blatantly than ever before. Since money is fungible, that guarantees foreign corporations will be in on it as well. It's free speech, you see. It's right there in that constitution teabaggers keep waving around.

Corporate America dominates government, politicians, the voting process, and the media that covers it. Citizens United has helped turn us into a banana republic that allows an oligarchy to subvert our entire political economy. The impact of that ruling will surely be magnified greatly in 2012, a presidential election year. 

Robert Reich reviews the issue and invites us to learn more and get involved in the only way we can to reduce the ridiculous and corrupting influence of corporate money in elections. He joins with and others to push for a constitutional amendment that states what should have been obvious; corporations are not people. They do not get to buy elections.

Think about Citizens United the next time Republicans claim they favor strict constructionism. Think about that case's tortured logic that effectively guarantees that corporations will buy elections the next time conservatives complain about activist judges.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Red State Reality

Below is one of the few times conservative columnist David Brooks has actually said something intelligent, albeit in an otherwise ignorant piece:
Like most Americans, including most evangelicals under 40, I find this culture war language absurd. If conservative ideas were that much more virtuous than liberal ideas, then the conservative parts of the country would have fewer social pathologies than the liberal parts of the country. They don’t.
Brooks is correct, though I doubt he is truly cognizant of the implications of this admission. He originally wrote it in his own New York Times post, but in case you can't get past the barriers, and don't want to register, try Blue Texan's take.

Blue Texan notes, as have many others, that the constant harangue from conservatives about the path to prosperity, stabiity, and, sweet Jesus, freedom itself, is through an environment with low taxes, cheap labor, damn few regulations and devoid of unions, bureaucrats, and secular liberals. The big problem with this view is that it is at odds with empirical reality.

CNN's Jack Cafferty raises a good question, one not raised enough, when he asks: What does it say that most of the 10 poorest states are Republican? Things don't look good when Mississippi, home of Republican heavyweight Gov. Haley Barbour, has a friendly, pro-business infrastructure with low wages, low union membership, and Republican domination of local and government. And churches everywhere.

The problem is that Missippippi is America's poorest state, with poverty levels reminiscent of the third world. Next in line are Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia, Louisiana, Montana, South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama and North Carolina. Republicans dominate all of them in most elections. 

Steve Chapman, writing in the Chicago Tribune, also notes the conservative meme is a fantasy:
Consider homicide, which is not only socially harmful but a violation of one of the Ten Commandments. Mississippi has the highest rate of church attendance in America, according to a Gallup survey, with 63 percent of people saying they go to church "weekly or almost weekly." But Mississippians are far more likely to be murdered than other Americans.

On the other hand, we have Vermont, where people are the most likely to skip church. Its murder rate is only about one-fourth as high as the rest of the country. New Hampshire, the second-least religious state, has the lowest murder rate.

These are no flukes. Of the 10 states with the most worshippers, all but one have higher than average homicide rates. Of the 11 states with the lowest church attendance, by contrast, 10 have low homicide rates.
David Brooks needs to complete his mea culpa. It won't do to just say that social pathology measurements are no better in red states than blue; they are, in fact, much worse.

As Harry Truman famously said:
"If you want to live like a Republican, vote Democratic."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Redistributing Wealth

Les Leopold recently posted an article at Alternet called How Can the World's Richest Country Let Children Go Hungry? 6 Tricks Corporate Elites Use to Hoard All the Wealth. Not only is he spot on in his analysis, the evidence supporting his contentions is massive and unmistakable. I want to examine just one of them in this post. The others I will return to in time.

His first, and now mine, addresses increased economic productivity and how the benefits have become poorly distributed. His contention is thus:
Productivity continues to rise but the 99 percent doesn’t share in the benefits. The key to the material wealth of any nation is productivity – how much we produce per worker hour. Productivity is a crude measure of our overall level of knowledge, technique, organization, skill and cooperative work practices that produce the sum total of our goods and services. Lo and behold, there’s nothing at all wrong with productivity in America. It continues to rise and rise just like it did during our post-WWII boom years. What’s changed is that the average American wage has stalled since the mid-1970s -- which is precisely the time that we started to deregulate Wall Street and cut taxes on the rich. During the 1950s and '60s boom years, almost all Americans shared in the fruits of productivity leading to rising real wages (after inflation). But now the productivity lines and wage lines have pulled apart. The gap between the two lines represents trillions of dollars that once went to the average American but are now going almost entirely to the super-rich.
Here's what Leopold is saying, in graphic form:
As should be apparent, throughout most of the post-war period, labor productivity steadily increased, and workers' compensation largely kept up. This was close to ideal and helps explain why the US economy was the envy of the world. The trend came to an end, rather abruptly, in roughly 1980.

It isn't getting any better. A recent study from Northwestern University reveals that 88 percent of income growth since 2009 was in the form of corporate profits, and only one percent went to wages. A recent investor report from JP Morgan notes approvingly that corporate profit margins increased by about 1.3 percent from 2000 to 2007, adding not only that profit margins are now at levels "not seen in decades," but that the primary reason for the fattened margins is a reduction in wages and benefits.

This is sick.  I remind the reader that reducing taxes on the wealthy and on corporations is at the heart of the Republican platform. And increasing wages and benefits for middle America is not.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Reckless Indifference

This lengthy chart reveals much about what powerful Republicans think of the rest of us. A quick look below at the tax proposals of the Republican presidential candidates reveals just how willing they are to exacerbate inequality.

It should be apparent that each proposal overwhelmingly benefits those already wealthy and will have little positive impact on millions of struggling families. It should be equally obvious that these tax proposals will make the deficit much worse.

None of the candidates has any intention of reimplementing the tax structures of the past that helped create the middle class, provided for solid growth, paid for defense-and wars-with taxes, and managed to balance the budget, or come very close to it.

There is only one major difference between now and earlier in the post-war period, up to the 1980s, and it isn't government spending. The difference is that 30+ years of tax cuts for the wealthy, starting with Ronald Reagan, have shielded the very wealthy from the taxes they used to pay. That has created a two-fold tax structure: the middle and working class are asked to pay more, and the budget shortfalls, dramatically larger than in the past, end up as government debt, picked up by China and other trading partners.

The current set of proposals only worsens the trend. Every detail is a giveaway to America's richest.

Tax Proposals by
Tax Proposals Infographic by: Certified Tax Coach

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Media and Government are Both Failing Us

Here is Cenk Uygur relating recent discoveries that members of congress provided inside information to hedge fund managers. There hasn't been much media coverage on this. Cenk notes that the story originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal, which one would think would have been enough to trigger follow-up stories, you know, the ones on the front page of every newspaper saying criminal investigations are under way.

Didn't happen. And that is the other story: media complacency. Even though the story has been broken, few have followed up and tried to learn more. How many people really learned of this story? Can there be a more blatant example of the corruption of our government? And has our media reached a point where this no longer seems to be especially newsworthy?

Cenk treats this as a breaking story, and it should be, but in reality it is another incremental move to complete oligarchy. The more it happens, the less people pay attention. Apparently not enough people, regardless of motivation, seem to think the story should be vigorously pursued.

David Sirota has a excellent analysis on why no one is investigating Wall Street, not specifically the insider trading info given to the hedgies, but the widely documented criminal behavior of the big banks.
When it comes to our government’s collective refusal to aggressively investigate — much less prosecute — Wall Street crime, one prevailing line of apologism implies that it’s all about resources. As the general fable goes, Wall Street is so sprawling and so lawyered up that public law enforcement agencies simply don’t have the resources to make sure justice is served, especially at a time of budget deficits. In this story, Wall Street is not simply too big to fail; it’s too big to even police.
Right, David; there are reasons why congress has underfunded watchdog agencies like the SEC, and it isn't because it cares about the budget deficits. And it is worth noting that the media did in fact cover the banker-induced recession reasonably well, at least for those of us who sought out appropriate media sources. Not hard to do, by the way if you have an Internet connection. Sirota's dismay is that Washington knew full well what had happened, in time we all knew, but that there is still almost no government action to hold the criminal class criminally liable.  Instead politicians direct their venom at the poor.
Tracking an individual example of this phenomenon, Matt Taibbi makes clear that it’s really difficult to overstate just how revealing this kind of thing is. Wall Street crooks who stole trillions of dollars are rewarded by the administration with additional trillions in bailouts. Meanwhile, those crooks’ now-impoverished victims — so poor they are on food stamps, mind you — are being targeted by the same administration for criminal investigation for allegedly making a few extra bucks on recycling empty bottles.
Our government is directing prosecutorial resources at food stamp recipients because they may have earned a few extra dollars from recycling bottles. Poor people are sent to jail while the wealthy pay fines and sign documents that allow for no admission of wrong-doing.

We could endlessly debate the extent to which President Obama or Democrats in congress contribute to Wall Street's special privileges. It should be clear to all that Republicans are the party of America's wealthiest. Never in recent history has a party so shamelessly shilled for the 1% while demonizing, ridiculing, and haranguing the poor and powerless. It is Republicans, it must be remembered, who continue to claim that unqualified home borrowers of modest means were to blame for derailing the economy.

Others will argue, incorrectly in my view, that there is no real difference between the two parties. These are cynical conclusions held by the intellectually lazy. Having said that, there is not as much difference between the two parties as I would like, or as much as there used to be. More than a few Democrats have shown a contemptible willingness to do the bidding of the investor class.