In The New York Times, Neil Irwin points out that there’s a straightforward way a new Biden administration could begin clawing back some of the outrageous gains made by the wealthy even if Republicans remain bent on keeping taxes on the wealthy at budget-busting new lows: enforce the existing tax laws. Identify the wealthy tax cheats who, like a certain orange-hued someone, have been abusing tax laws for years and end their cheating.
There’s a catch here, though, and it’s the obvious and crooked one. Republicans have been defunding the Internal Revenue Service for years in an effort to block exactly those sorts of audits and oversight. The IRS has increasingly targeted lower-income Americans with audits and enforcement, while probes of the wealthy have decreased. Those audits, say criminals allies of the wealthy, would be too difficult and time-consuming because rich people have lots of lawyers. Poor people don’t have any lawyers, so it makes sense to concentrate on the poor people. And the wealthy and corporate have in the past decades moved to new tax evasion schemes that the IRS has much more difficulty tracking to begin with.
In order to truly begin prosecuting rampant tax fraud among the lawyered class, it will take restoring money to the IRS to be able to staff those more complex cases and, again, Republicans have been blocking that. Republicans are not dumb—or, to clarify, the lobbyists that write Republican-backed bills are not dumb, and have not missed many tricks in their efforts to free America’s wealthy from paying the same tax rates that either their wealthy parents or their poorest gardeners have paid. The result is an upper class that is living fat and happy even through a recession and world-shaking pandemic, an upper class that cannot be dislodged even by calamity, most with financial dealings that look much like Trump’s own.
A non-Republican administration could direct the IRS to divert more attention to partnerships, S corporations, and similar vehicles for tax dodging, but it would be taken as an act of war. The nation’s wealthy would gang up to sabotage IRS efforts by any means necessary, from the individual act of lawyering each case into the ground to new dark money groups aimed at fomenting so-called “populist” declarations against paying anything in taxes at all.
The heart of the problem here is that the American upper class is awash in financial crimes as a way of life. It is expected, and celebrated. It is seen, by the plastic classes that file through Mar-a-Lago, as cleverness. The Occupy movement had them dead to rights, but could not make headway against a government too keen on collaborating with its own saboteurs.
Appeals to decency or patriotism have never worked. Enforcing the laws already on the books, Republicans often say, is the path to ending out-of-control criminality. Imagine tens of thousands of Donald Trumps squealing like stuck pigs at the news that their tax returns are being genuinely probed; imagine a good chunk of those taking Trump’s own path, declaring that if it’s the nation versus his own pocketbook, then it is the nation which must go down.
Russia, it seems, is not the most powerful nation that’s under the thumb of an inherently criminal class.
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