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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 since May 2012

Page Previous 12 • 3
The One Percent Deports Itself

May 7, 2012 ·

The number of people renouncing their U.S. citizenship is higher than ever.

Now that new provisions in the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act have gone into effect, the feds are reining in tax dodgers living abroad. But many of these super-wealthy people who would be forced to pony up more in tax payments are choosing to sever ties with their country of birth instead.

Many of these individuals lead nomadic, season-driven lives. Their choice of where to live at any one time is based on that location’s climate, their children’s education, tax constraints, or which of their friends they want to lunch with on any particular day. When one has such a global outlook, paying taxes to something as archaic as a nation-state can be easily ignored. Bloomberg was among the first to report on this story:

About 1,780 expatriates gave up their nationality at U.S. embassies last year, up from 235 in 2008, according to Andy Sundberg, secretary of Geneva’s Overseas American Academy, citing figures from the government’s Federal Register. The embassy in Bern, the Swiss capital, redeployed staff to clear a backlog as Americans queued to relinquish their passports.

Renouncing their citizenship does not cost much to these global elites, who can achieve statelessness rather quickly:

During a 10-minute renunciation ceremony in a booth with bullet-proof glass windows, embassy staff ask exiting Americans whether they are acting voluntarily and understand the implications of giving up their passports. They pay a fee of $450 to renounce and may incur an “exit tax” on unrealized capital gains if their assets exceed $2 million or their average annual U.S. tax bill is more than $151,000 during the past five years.

The Obama administration deserves some credit for putting a scare into the expatriate tax-dodging class. But it can certainly still do more for the taxpayers facing deportation.

The number of immigrants being deported from the United States is also at an all-time high. After last year's much-celebrated announcement of a new discretion policy by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), advocates have seen dissappointing results. ICE has reviewed 219,554 pending cases, but only 16,544 (or 7.5 percent) were identified as amenable for prosecutorial discretion as of April 16, 2012. They have only closed 2,722 cases, according to figures released by ICE (pdf).

The status quo of post-recession America shows a government that's slighted by some of the richest members of its citizenry, while wistfully ignoring the plight of millions yearning for the full opportunity to become Americans.

The Lineup: Week of May 7-13, 2012

May 7, 2012 ·

In this week's OtherWords editorial package, Sarah Anderson underscores the dangers posed by Wall Street's lightning-speed computerized trading and Donald Kaul makes the case for eating more vegetables. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven't signed up yet, please do.

  1. Wall Street's Speed Freaks / Sarah Anderson
    The high-frequency trading that dominates the stock market could trigger another global financial crisis.
  2. Grassroots Victory / Carl Gibson
    A coalition of big corporations has lost a battle to nab a huge tax break.
  3. A Watered-Down Education / Wenonah Hauter
    Project WET's supposed mission is a slap in the face to any community that has had its water muscled away by Nestle.
  4. A More Meaningful Mother's Day Gift / Leslie Kantor
    How about giving moms a little help with the birds and the bees?
  5. Vegan Confessions / Donald Kaul
    The vegetable is a quick cure for much if not most of our health problems.
  6. Food Stamp Foolishness / Jim Hightower
    Rep. Paul Ryan's trying to justify his abuse of the poor with religious lip service.
  7. The Pipeline from the Black Lagoon / William A. Collins
    TransCanada's Keystone XL project is rotten.
  8. Vegan on Board / Khalil Bendib

Vegan on Board, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

A Ditty on Newt Gingrich: The Apogee of a Would-be Nominee

May 3, 2012 ·

Newt assured us:

I Will be the Nominee
I Will beat Mitt Rominee
I Will create a Moon Colony
I am not full of Baloney


Fortunately only the last is true
But losing you still makes us blue
We’ll miss having you to tease
We’ll miss our jokes about Tiffany’s

We'll carry on with Barack and Mitt
But we lament that you called it quits

A Rich Man's Message to America: You Need Us To Get Even Richer!

May 2, 2012 ·

How can you tell a really smart rich guy from a really silly one? The really smart one would never spend four years writing a book that tries to justify the incredible riches of incredibly rich people. Mega-millionaire Edward Conard has done just that.

Conard amassed his immense fortune — estimated in the hundreds of millions — working the private-equity circuit alongside his close friend Mitt Romney. Now Conard is reinventing himself as a "public intellectual." He has just published a new book, Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong, that will be featured this Sunday in the New York Times magazine.

Unintended consequences Don't go looking for anything new in Conrad's tome. His themes — as highlighted in the upcoming New York Times profile — regurgitate the same pap we've been hearing for generations, ever since Andrew Carnegie penned The Gospel of Wealth in 1889. Carnegie argued back then, in America's original Gilded Age, that we average Americans should welcome the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.

By dint of their "superior wisdom, experience, and ability," Carnegie assured us, these rich few can put their wealth to work for the benefit of us all.

Conard gives Carnegie a 21st century gloss. Mammoth financial rewards, he posits, give our most talented the incentive to go out, take risks, and nurture the innovations that benefit society as a whole. The prime problem in America today? As a society, Conard contends, we’re not offering our talented few large enough rewards. We’re underpaying our "risk takers"!

Conard’s New York Times interviewer, Adam Davidson, "kept raising" various critiques of wealth concentration during his chats with the private-equity superstar. Don't vast amounts of wealth, Davidson wondered, give the super rich the power to crush innovations that might threaten their privileged positions?

And doesn't the chase after outrageously large fortune create an incentive to behave outrageously — to squeeze workers and consumers and even place an entire society’s economic well-being at risk?

Conard refused to engage with any of these critical questions. He “repeatedly,” notes Davidson in his profile, “waved them off.”

Nor, predictably, did Conard try to rebut any of the critical research on inequality that comes from researchers outside economics — from political scientists, sociologists, psychologists, and epidemiologists, the scientists who study the health of populations. Over recent decades, these scholars have detailed how vast concentrations of income and wealth are eating away at our democracy and social fabric — and even limiting the length of the lives we lead.

I surveyed this compelling research in a 2004 book, Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives. Greed and Good, an American Library Association Choice magazine “outstanding title” of the year, now appears online for free perusing.

More recent books have updated the case against concentrated wealth. In the just-published Billionaires' Ball: Gluttony and Hubris in an Age of Epic Inequality, Canadians Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks neatly demolish the sorts of facile rationalizations for grand fortune that the likes of Edward Conard insist on making.

Brian Miller and Mike Lapham, veteran egalitarian activists with United for a Fair Economy, zero in more closely on one particular rationalization for grand fortune in their new book, The Self-Made Myth: And the Truth about How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed.

And my Institute for Policy Studies colleague, Chuck Collins, places these rationalizations in a broader context in his recently released contribution to the inequality debate, 99 To 1: How Wealth Inequality Is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It.

All these books make for enlightening reading, on May Day or any other day. But none of these books will ever get the attention that Edward Conard is getting for his new tome. Conard, after all, has mega millions. That "earns" him the national spotlight.

We only have word of mouth. Let's use it.

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