ProPublica investigation finds ultra-rich pay almost nothing in federal income tax

The Former Guy got as much if not more coverage at the time in the NYC tabloids as she did. However, his regular stiffing of employees and contractors, not to mention the concrete-industry Mob connections that gave him a leg up, never made it into print. And of course, they weren’t coming up with “clever” gender-related sobriquets for him. About the only outlet that treated both as the wretched and greedy scumbags they were was Spy.

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The former guy has not gone to jail for anything he has done so far, UP TO AND INCLUDING fomenting a fucking insurrection. Not a single fucking day. She ended up serving nearly 2 years. Her real crime was doing what rich white men regularly get away with and flaunting it. That’s why she was a convicted, because she was a woman doing what is reserved for white men.

Our worship of rich white men is going to kill this country, if it hasn’t already.


I’ve been in a similar boat twice. Once with a company I founded. Investors put in cash, but my equity was from founding and sweat. I was getting paid about half of what prevailing wages were and even went without pay for several years (I laid myself off before the employees). Company went belly up. But theoretically, could have ended up paying more in taxes than investors put in had my equity been treated as income.

The other time was a forced conversion of options from parent company to equity in an investment LLC. Extra stock was being thrown in. Had it been a US company, it would have been fine. But US tax law on foreign LLC’s treats that at income. I noped right out and demanded options instead. So did everyone else, once they learned they would have to pay taxes on non-transferable equity. Good thing I avoided those taxes since the money the LLC eventually got was diverted. I haven’t seen a cent.

But I still think there could be a formula for the very rich that avoids screwing over folks like us, but taxes high wealth. I’m reluctant to tax someone just because they are rich, but can easily justify such a tax in my head as the cost to protect properties rights (i.e. cops, courts, army, etc) that should be shared proportional to the wealth being protected.

Why on earth do we allow people to get this rich in the first place? No one person deserves that much wealth, regardless of what they’ve done.

In my opinion.


Spot on. So hear me out. What if we simply reinstated the 1950 marginal income tax rate for the ultra-wealthy? That would create a top tax bracket of approximately $4,500,000 (adjusted for inflation of course) with a tax rate of 92%. They can keep their capital gains rate of 15% where most of their income originates. It’s not perfect, but it’s more fair than today’s system.

The point I’m really trying to make is that the American Tax System works how we say it works. And it’s been modified dramatically over the decades. The article clearly shows that the tax code, as it currently stands, creates gross inequalities that should be addressed if we want to live in an equitable society.

As a side note, Congress passed a massive overhaul of the tax code that was signed into law less than 4 years ago. No reason we can’t do that again and address these systemic problems in the process. Just a thought, how about a 40% tax on annual capital gains above $1,000,000?


Yeah, you and whose majority who’d be willing to do so? Not the supposed Dem “majority”. Nope.

They’re not even whispering about tax changes.


In the 2018 tax year the top 1 percent paid over 40 % of federal income taxes, even though they just earned under 21 percent of total adjusted gross income. The bottom 50 % of taxpayers earned 11.6 % of total AGI, but paid less than 3 % of income taxes.

Billionaires are people too. Now those Trillionaires are fucking monsters and we should totally eat them…

What metric do you think we should use to determine the wealth ceiling of individuals and companies?

Putting companies aside (because they’re only fictional people, my friend), no household needs (let alone deserves) to keep a billion dollars in net worth, and no-one needs (or deserves) to keep millions of dollars a year in income.

For a lower-limit metric of ridiculousness, I’d start with the investment banks’ own definition of an “ultra-high net worth” individual: someone with investable assets (excluding primary residence) of USD$30-million-plus. Using the 4% rule, I personally think any given human or household can squeak by on $1.2-million a year in passive income while their principal continues to appreciate.*

That limit puts me and Goldman Sachs a bit to the left of that wild-eyed commie Elizabeth Warren, who proposes a crushing 2% wealth tax on individuals whose net worth is more than USD$50-million. In this stupid country of temporarily embarrassed millionaires run by the consensus of a fantasy economic ideology, however, Warren’s proposal will never come to pass. Guillotines, on the other hand, might make a comeback if America’s Gini Coefficient keeps trending in this unsustainable direction.

[* especially if we have a quality single-payer universal health insurance and quality affordable housing programmes like every other OECD country]


Wasn’t the point of the article that “adjusted gross income” is a bad measure?

What was it with just “gross income” before adjustments?

Also, since this metric is “income” not just “money someone got”, is it excluding capital gains too, even realized ones?

Meaning if that metric is using “adjusted gross income” so it can reduce by all the deductions and exclude gains that are not income, it’s kind of a pointless metric for the discussion. Since we’re talking about all the ways really rich people use tax avoidance.


I have had a similar instinct at times, but however much society’s rules are utterly screwed up and need to change to benefit everyone (higher marginal top income and capital gains tax rates, higher estate tax rates for large estates, less political corruption and not-technically-legally-bribery), at some level people have wealth because they bought or created, and then sold, something that other people decided was valuable. Unless you’re going to forbid people from owning things they create or from selling things they own (which sometimes makes sense to do, but rarely; IIRC there are laws about inheriting animal parts dating from before a species was declared endangered that forbid selling them?) I’m curious what you would want a solution to look like?

@gracchus 2% is a reasonable number for a wealth tax, provided that the wealth in question has a clear market price and can be liquidated at that price.

Collectibles (art, watches, etc.) and “toys” (supercars, yachts, other depreciating or white-elephant assets) count as wealth, but they don’t form the basis of the bulk of income and loans for most UHNWIs. Trading them amongst themselves is the ultra-wealthy person’s equivalent of cutting each-other’s hair or trading Pokemon cards. The bulk of most of their wealth is in stocks, bonds, investment real estate, additional homes, and other vehicles that have a reasonably clear market price (and, in liquidation, a reasonable range of potential profit or loss).


I like how many people are like, “this article is misleading, this is how the US tax system works, unrealized capital gains are not income, no income means no taxes”. As if a billionaire increasing their wealth by millions or billions and paying proportionately less tax than someone brushing against poverty is just fine, because, you know, they’re not doing anything illegal. This is getting perilously close to that idiotic “all taxation is theft” nonsense. I don’t know what the solution is, but the plain fact is that billionaires, on the whole, are not paying back into the system the way conservatives are convinced they do. They hoard, and then they pass it on to their kids, and they cause a lot of suffering along the way. That’s how you become a billionaire. Period.


It’s important to never forget that we’re talking about two distinct things:

  1. Fair tax systems are inherently hard to design, and
  2. The richest people don’t pay anything close to a fair share

You might think that’s an obvious point, and perhaps it should be, but I’ve never seen a conversation about tax that didn’t trip over it. Left-wing discourse waves away point 1, and regular folks get too caught up in their own tax anxieties to think about point 2.

I think it’s genuinely hard to make it so a farmer, an office cleaner and a junior derivatives trader all shoulder a proportionate tax burden; we’ll never be done arguing about that. But the good(?) news is that the ultra-rich have made themselves such a special case – they’re so different from ordinary humans – that it should at least be possible to tax the living shit out of them without risk of collateral damage.

Most obviously, a tax of 100% on estates over, say, $50million. I don’t think there is any conceivable argument for why that is unfair (and I’ve heard them all). The very fact that someone can die with that much money demonstrates that they didn’t pay a fair share of tax in life, and once they’re dead, the distinction between realised and unrealised gains is erased.


^ this.

regardless of head lopping, money and property are defined into existence by government. without a government to recognize and protect those things - those things don’t exist. ( even gold will do you no good if it’s legal to steal )

now add to that the idea that oligarchy is incompatible with democracy… and all that remains is how to deal with massive accumulations of wealth, not if. because government not only can do so, it must do so.

taxation in my view isn’t about what’s “fair” - who cares. life is often unfair. taxation is about creating a stable democracy.

we need steep progressive taxation, taxes on stock trading, taxes on luxury goods, taxes on estates, and taxes on wealth to create a stable, healthy democracy.

things like sales tax, taxes on primary residences, taxes on estates of actual family farms - all can go in my opinion.

we get to choose what makes the best society because our society is what makes all that wealth possible in the first place. it’s ( as you’re saying ) as simple as that


Most places already have “property tax”. The majority are on real-estate but some portion are on things like automobiles and other large-ticket tangibles. There’s no reason that some “property” tax on “investments” such as holdings in stocks, financial derivatives, etc could not be done. Sure, I hear the argument of “the money isn’t real until the investment is liquidated” So what. My “investment” in my primary residence, and automobile are all just theoretical as well until/unless I sell them. Yet I still get a tax bill every year for them. If Jeff Bezos needs to liquidate a couple million (or 0.0000001%) of his stocks to pay the tax, then so be it. I need to cough up the money for my home that I didn’t sell. He can do the same for the stocks he didn’t sell. Even if that means selling some of them. And “lending” yourself money from a company you own is bullshit. However, if that company also has to pay property tax on it’s holdings, then it may balance out. (and stop being a useful thing the .00001% use to evade taxation)

So close all the damn loopholes and tax holdings, not just “incomes”.

We could even have the republican dream of a “flat tax”. I propose 75% for everybody, no exceptions. With a standard deduction of $1,000,000. (first $1,000,000 tax free), but only payroll income counts towards the deduction. If your income is capital gains, it’s all taxed.

Lots of details would need to be worked out (how do you deal with retired persons living off their IRA and SS?) but those can be accommodated.

It’s also what enables the haves to continue denying the have-nots the means to earn enough to cover the basic cost of living. Here’s an interesting take from a person who has influenced the society we live in now, promoting the usual GOP/GQP points against a minimum wage that most people still couldn’t live on with the part-time hours employers offer:


Art Laffer shouldn’t even be a thing. One of the most prominent economic changes of our time was the global financial crisis around 2008, and he had openly laughed at the very possibility of it. At that point, he’s like an ornithologist who thinks flight is impossible…he clearly isn’t worth listening to in his field, and very probably any others either.

Yes, I know he once drew a curve on a napkin, and rich people liked it. Still.



oh, gop. if only we had some… you know… actual numbers to compare.

Denmark boasts one of the highest wages for fast food workers in the world. Unions secured a collective bargaining agreement with McDonald’s… and all workers currently make about $21 [USD] per hour.

The downside? McDonald’s food is significantly more expensive; a Big Mac there set you back $5.18 as of January 2014, compared to $4.62 in the U.S.

a whopping 0.56 more per burger.

oh, and:

About 52 percent of American front-line fast food workers also rely on government assistance programs to meet basic needs… this ultimately costs tax payers $3.8 billion to subsidize worker pay from the 10 largest fast food companies and $1.2 billion from McDonald’s alone.

so, yeah. beyond taxes, a livable minimum wage would help correct wealth disparity and deficit spending as well.


Let me try again, since my first sarcastic reply seems to have been wiped.

This is the typical overly-simplistic approach that the republicans have used for years to block solutions to extremely complex problems. There obviously isn’t a simple one-size-fits-all wealth ceiling. I don’t propose anything like that at all. What is needed is some kind of concerted effort to bring ethics and concern for community back into the economic sphere. Every single time something is done to try to promote this, it is fought tooth and nail by powerful people and the politicians they have, frankly, bribed. Every attempt to advance and protect humanity (and the biosphere) as a whole is blocked. I don’t know what to do about it except education, and even that’s been tweaked to protect the wealthy.

It’s a complex problem, but to ask “what do you want as a wealth ceiling metric” is a non-helpful distraction.