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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.



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Entries tagged "Taxes"

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A Case Study for Why We Need a Stiff Estate Tax

May 25, 2011 ·

Great wealth, the philosopher Philip Slater once noted, tends to make wealthy people instinctively suspicious because they can never be quite sure whether others love or admire them for their fortunes or themselves.

"If you gain fame, power, or wealth, you won't have any trouble finding lovers," Slated added, "but they will be people who love fame, power, or wealth."

Exhibit A for Philip Slater's wisdom: the long, sad life of Huguette Clark, the copper mining heiress who died this week at the age of 104.

Over a century ago, Clark's father, the fearsome William Andrews Clark, abused mine workers and poisoned the environment on his way to one of the Gilded Age's greatest fortunes. Mark Twain called Clark "as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag," and the enormous wealth he left daughter Huguette in 1925 would define — and burden —the rest of her life.

Huguette Clark married in 1928, then divorced in 1930. She never had children and, after her mother's 1963 death, lived as a recluse in a 42-room Manhattan Park Avenue apartment. She also owned — but hadn't visited since the 1950s — a beach house in Santa Barbara.

At Clark's third home, a country home in Connecticut now worth $23 million, the guard who had spent almost his entire adult life watching over the property never even knew the name of the estate's owner until a reporter asked him about Clark the day after she died.

Clark did have some cousins, nephews, and nieces, but she refused to see them. Her closest friends, an acquaintance once told MSNBC, "have always been her dolls." She used to pay servants to iron their clothes.

Clark's father died before the stiff federal estate tax rates of the 1940s and 1950s — as high as 77 percent on estate value over $10 million — kicked in. Now estate tax rates are running back close to their 1920s-era levels, and Clark's cousins, nieces, and nephews may eventually inherit most of the $500 million fortune Clark has apparently left behind.

Will congratulations be in order?

Sam Pizzigati, the co-editor of Inequality.Org, also edits Too Much, the online weekly on excess and inequality published by the Washington, DC-based Institute for Policy Studies. Read the current issue or sign up to receive Too Much in your email inbox.

Does DC Have the Audacity to Pass an Income Tax Increase?

May 18, 2011 ·

Tax increases, especially for the wealthiest Americans are inevitable. Whoever says we can get out of our current economic mess (both debt and unemployment crises) without raising taxes is wrong.

During an economic downturn, in which governments are failing to raise the revenue necessary to fund crucial programs that help those in need, politicians are finally starting to accept tax increases as part of the solution. Washington, DC's own Mayor, Vincent Gray, has included tax increases on top of spending cuts in his proposed FY2012 budget.

Will the DC City Council be audacious enough to tax the rich? (Photo by Larry Miller)

There is no question that Mayor Gray's budget is far from perfect (the drastic cuts in our major poverty alleviation program for families and children, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, also known as TANF, is one that the City Council should reject). However, Gray should be applauded for concretely putting out a proposed tax increase for those making more than $200,000 a year, from 8.5 percent to 8.9 percent. It is a very modest increase that, when combined with Gray's other tax and fee increases, is projected to raise $127 million.

Even though these tax increases are a step in the right direction to an austerity balanced budget, City Council members seem hesitant to pass them. Council Chair Kwame Brown and Council Member Jack Evans, both Democrats, came out opposing these tax increases without any explanations.

If higher income taxes for the richest Washingtonians are off the table, the City Council's only way of balancing their budget is by further cutting funding for crucial programs and services for the city's poorest residents, especially since funding from the Recovery Act will be lost. These programs could range from Social Safety net programs like TANF and mental health services to economic development programs that help local and small businesses. With DC's unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent, more people are relying on these social safety net programs to help get back on their feet.

It's also important for small business owners to fight for the survival and full funding of programs like TANF. Even though they don't directly benefit from these programs, small business owners succeed if and only if there is a strong enough consumption base living in DC that buys their products. If small business owners in DC want their businesses to thrive in the long run, a lower unemployment and poverty rates (18.4 percent) are necessary for a healthy and robust consumption base in the city.

DC residents are welcoming the idea of a budget with tax increases. According to a poll commissioned by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, 70 percent of respondents said it's more important to preserve services than to hold down taxes, and 85 percent of respondents are in favor increasing tax rates for individuals who make $200,000 or more. The people have spoken. It's up to the City Council to give them what they want.

Talking The Talk

April 21, 2011 ·

If you listen very closely, you’ll detect the faint murmur of President Barack Obama finally “talking the talk” about cutting defense spending and eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the rich. We welcome these sentiments. But there is a woeful disconnect between the spirit they invoke and the “facts on the ground.“

Obama proposed a $400 billion cut to the bloated military budget — but the cuts stretch across 12 years and barely graze the Pentagon, which will continue spending at Cold War levels. He waxed eloquently when he opposed renewing Bush tax cuts for the rich, even as he continued to embrace his new “job czar”: GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, the poster boy of corporate tax dodging.

So, as Americans filed their taxes en masse, IPS experts continued calling attention to military spending and unfair tax policies.

IPS scholar John Feffer wrote in a recent OtherWords op-ed, that "the United States was responsible for 94 percent of the global increase in military expenditures in 2010." The Global Day of Action on Military Spending, organized by IPS and the International Peace Bureau, resulted in hundreds of actions around the world on April 12th, including an eye-catching display in Athens, a “die-in” at the steps of the Treasury building in London, and a song written by the indie pop group Peachcake in Arizona.

Tax day also brought attention to the low taxes paid by the super wealthy and the nonexistent taxes on transnational corporations including Bank of America, GE, BP, Verizon and FedEx. As IPS scholar Chuck Collins points out in his recent article, “What Would Jesus Tax?,” the US could collect over $4 trillion in new revenue by closing offshore tax havens, adding new top tax brackets for millionaires, and instituting a simple financial transaction tax over the next decade.

Additionally this week, IPS scholar Sarah Anderson outlined seven innovative mechanisms to increase public revenue streams and IPS scholar Noel Ortega blogged about the burgeoning youth movement against corporations: US Uncut.

Obama may be beginning to find his voice, IPS is hoping to help him find the way to the bully pulpit.

Finally, Obama's Talking about Taxing the Wealthy

April 14, 2011 ·

President Obama has broken through the silence about revenue in Washington's dominant budget and deficit debate.

 "At a time when the tax burden on the wealthy is at its lowest level in half a century, the most fortunate among us can afford to pay a little more," Obama said in a speech at Georgetown University on Wednesday. "I don't need another tax cut. Warren Buffett doesn't need another tax cut."

He lambasted the GOP budget proposal put forward by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan. "There's nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires," he said.

In addition to reversing tax hikes on the wealthy, Obama made vague recommendations about closing loopholes, especially for high-income households. Unfortunately, he avoided the important issue of corporate tax dodging through off shore tax havens.

"Unnecessary Austerity," the IPS report I recently co-authored , questions the assumption that budget cuts are the only path to fiscal health. Instead, we argue, Congress should focus on reversing tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires — and closing tax loopholes and overseas tax havens that enable corporations to shrink their tax bills.

The United States is far from broke. The problem is that wealth and income have become concentrated in the hands of the richest 1 percent of Americans and our largest multinational corporations. Yet over the last generation, we've greatly reduced taxes on the wealthy and global corporations.

For example, if the federal government taxed households with incomes over $1 million and big corporations at 1961 levels, the Treasury would collect an additional $716 billion a year, or $7 trillion over a decade. We've reduced the actual tax levy on millionaires by almost half during the past 50 years. In 1961, families with more than a million dollars of annual income paid 43 percent of their income in federal income taxes. This year, they will pay just 23 percent.

"I believe that most wealthy Americans would agree with me," Obama said. "They want to give back to their country, a country that's done so much for them. It's just Washington hasn't asked them to." His argument in favor of increasing tax rates for the wealthy is reinforced by a new call to action by Wealth for the Common Good and Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength. Those groups encompass more than 100 millionaires calling on Congress to raise their taxes.

Obama has public opinion on his side. Polls show that the majority of voters would rather hike taxes on millionaires than slash spending. But some of his proposals — like reducing charitable and home mortgage interest deductions for millionaires — may encounter tough sledding. Those proposals will mobilize opposition from not only corporate lobbyist and a segment of the wealthy. They'll face the wrath of the second-home real estate lobby and charity advocates.

But one way or another, taxes on the top are going to rise in the coming two years.

Building The Movement to Stop Corporate Tax Evasion

April 11, 2011 ·

Thanks commenter @margsview for your very insightful comment:

“I appreciate knowing these facts and that they have been available to those who wished to know but I am now waiting to see ideas as to how to affect the actual tax changes.  Simply voting for parties that strive for the current status is futile.  Protesting is rather dubious as far as results, as media create their own spin and the authorities vilify the protesters thus nullifying their message for change. That leaves creating new strategies, such as a possible tax movement similar to the longstanding one in California.  Comments please.”

I agree with you – historically, “protesting,” in and of itself, has not garnered any significant transformative change for the reasons you’ve listed and many more.

With that said, I also want to emphasize that protesting in the form of creative direct action can be very effective when combined with a well planned strategy. Direct action is needed in social movements, and it plays an integral role in creating transformative change.

Creative Commons photo by Peace Education Center

One group that understands this paradox well is US Uncut. This social movement is attracting the attention from not only progressives, but also from middle of the road folks, and from the mainstream media. The folks who are behind US Uncut took the lead from UK Uncut to get giant corporate tax cheats like Bank of America, Verizon, FedEx, and GE to pay their fair share in taxes so we won’t have to shutdown our schools, close our libraries,  or stop paying law enforcement officers and firefighters.

US Uncut has developed a very simple website that encourages ordinary citizens to take creative direct action on corporate tax cheats, which has led to their success in attracting the attention of the mainstream media (even right wing FOX), from policy makers, and tax policy experts.

It can very well be that this tax movement you’re calling for is already in formation and is becoming a global movement!

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