Christopher Orlet Economy Politics

Why It’s So Hard to Tax Billionaires

Elon Musk
Elon Musk in 2015. ( NVIDIA Corporation / Flickr)(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

By Christopher Orlet / CounterPunch

A recent NPR story attempted to explain why it is so hard to tax billionaires. The expert NPR interviewed for the story ticked off the usual ways the 1 percent avoids paying its fair share of taxes:

Billionaires have the best accountants who know all the loopholes. Their wealth isn’t in income, but in assets. They often move to states (like Texas) that don’t have a state income tax, and move their money to offshore tax havens. They live off tax free loans. Legislation to tax billionaires goes nowhere because wealthy coal barons like Democratic Senator Joe Manchin don’t believe in taxing the “job creators,” a notion that has been debunked again and again. (Basically a thriving middle class creates jobs, while billionaires invest their profits in real estate.)

What NPR didn’t say, and what the corporate and corporate-sponsored media never say, is that it is hard to tax billionaires because billionaires rule America and they don’t want to be taxed.

“We live in a nation owned and controlled by a small number of multi-billionaires,” says U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Our political system is now “an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery,” says former President Jimmy Carter.

Americans like to think they live in a democracy, but a peek behind the curtain shows the real power lies not with the people, but the super rich. This fact seems obvious, but in the corporate media and corporate-sponsored media, this basic truth is still considered a radical notion fit only for magazines like, well, this one.

Thomas Picketty and other left-leaning thinkers have long maintained that the billionaire ruling class is hostile toward democracy because true democracy means sharing power with the masses. While a few prominent billionaires (Bill Gates, George Soros, Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg) like to portray themselves as pro-democracy and socially responsible, the overwhelming majority are anti-democratic and ultra-conservative, especially on economic issues. As Benjamin Page, Jason Seawright, and Matthew Lacombe wrote recently in The Guardian, “Most of the wealthiest US billionaires – who are much less visible and less reported on – more closely resemble Charles Koch … Obsessed with cutting taxes, especially estate taxes – which apply only to the wealthiest Americans.”

These conservative billionaires don’t talk publicly about their politics because the self-interested economic policies they work to implement are highly unpopular with American people. Take the wealth tax, a recent poll found that two-thirds of voters approve of it. You would think then that a wealth tax would be a slam dunk.

Not so much.

This billionaire class runs the country stealthily (through dark money groups, campaign contributions, owning the media, etc.), because doing so outright would make Americans wake up to the fact that their democracy has been hijacked by oligarchs.

Instead we find shadowy billionaire-funded groups like Americans for Prosperity spending millions to get their hand-picked candidates into elected office, candidates who have agreed to promote the billionaires’ agenda—like no wealth tax.

Recently, however, this reluctance to speak out has begun to fade. More and more, today’s super rich don’t even try to hide their disdain for paying their fair share. Elon Musk recently whined that U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s call for higher taxes on billionaires was targeting people like himself. “Eventually, they run out of other people’s money and then they come for you.” New York supermarket magnate John Casimatidids said politicians who are peddling a wealth tax—Wyden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren— “are just nuts. They’re trying to change our way of life, and it’s not going to happen. If they don’t like the United States the way it is, I’m buying them a one-way ticket to Venezuela.”

Hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman recently complained that paying his fair share of taxes would be unfair. “The idea of vilifying wealthy people is so bogus,” he said.

Catsimatidis and Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus penned a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal titled, naturally, “Making Money is a Patriotic Act.” “[W]e have nothing to apologize for, and we don’t think the government should have more of our profits,” they wrote.

That more and more billionaires are speaking out publicly shows how little concerned today’s real ruling class is about public opinion.


  1. So, now we start off with National Propaganda Radio? As the lynchpin to the essay? Then you end with Koch Brothers, err, well, Home Depot that depends on Georgia Pacific for everything from wood products, to paints, etc. This is such a lite lite piece, I am almost shocked, with the fact you are failing to go for the jugular.

    Nah, it can’t be capitalism that is the root cause? You have ham-fisted folks like Kochs or Home Depot founder, but then you have smooth talking PR mavens, the Eichmann’s of Industry-Digital Lords- Law-Pharma-Media-Ag-Ed-Prison-Finance- et al.

    The brass tacks are this — you have a passive society, United Slaves of America. You have the most corrupt politicians that do not swagger with guns and bombs against their people, but who take take take bribe after bribe, lobbyist bribe after lobbyist bribe,

    Millionaires? Hmm, they doing good in this economy? What is too much? $20 million? $100 million? A billion? Fiat money, taxpayers footing the entire bill, externalities up the ying-yang, and this is it for the Scheer Report and Counter (sic) Punch (sic).

    As a journalist, from 1975, newspapers, then magazines, I have seen the shifting baseline disease — the center was called the left, which was wrong. Now, the center is super right, and the so-called liberal hip rags, well, they are basically making Nixon and Eisenhauer look like flaming liberals.

    Oh well, the same ameliorating bs comes from these aggerator sites, Scheer Report. Try getting out of the hogwash industry.

    Wall Street On Parade is a financial news site created, owned and maintained by Russ and Pam Martens. Since its inception, it has received no outside funding of any nature.

    Mr. Martens’ career spans four decades in publishing and printing management, including magazine and music publishing and the non-profit sector. Mr. Martens has received numerous awards in publishing and graphic design.

    Ms. Martens worked on Wall Street for 21 years. The last decade of her career was spent as an outspoken critic of Wall Street’s corrupt practices, its private justice system and the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. (This YouTube video captures Ms. Martens testifying before the Federal Reserve on June 26, 1998 against the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act.) Ms. Martens’ earlier career was in publishing, including editor-in-chief of a national trade magazine.

    Neither Russ Martens nor Pam Martens hold any security position, long or short, in any Wall Street firm or banking institution, including those discussed on this web site.

    Abby Martin sits down with Peter Phillips, former director of Project Censored and professor of Political Sociology at Sonoma State University. His new book “Giants: The Global Power Elite” details the 17 transnational investment firms which control over $50 trillion in wealth—and how they are kept in power by their activists, facilitators and protectors.

    “Giants” is available at Seven Stories Press:

  2. > This billionaire class runs the country stealthily
    > (through dark money groups, campaign contributions,
    > owning the media, etc.), because doing so outright
    > would make Americans wake up to the fact
    > that their democracy has been hijacked by oligarchs.

    I respectfully disagree. The billionaires’ bullshit is out in the open for all to see. The reason people don’t “wake up” is that they don’t want to. Their time on earth is filled with buying stuff they don’t need (preferably on credit), the ego-stroking so-called social so-called media and a secret worship of the shitheads that run the world (one day they might be just like them!).

    Mundus vult decipi: the world wants to be deceived. And why not? The truth is unbearable and unchangeable, after all. I’m pouring myself another drink…

    1. Wow. No regard for brainwashing or a deep deep project to colonize youth? Blame the victims. People need massive leadership ,but when the masters have bred the generations on poisons and lies and hit that dopamine place in the brain, shoot, try and kill the cravings and addictions. More frog marching billionaires and Eichmanns into the boiling tar and feathers arenas, folk like you will blame tge damaged ones. Most humans outside this shit hole, want the white man’s disease to vanish.

      1. In the mid- 1990s, a roundtable of prominent local leftists was discussing why regular people would vote for Republicans and right wing Democrats, because doing so is totally against their financial interests. One person stated the clear answer: because most Americans want to be rich and think that they will be someday, so they don’t want policies that harm the rich, like high taxes.

        People are not innocent just because they’re not rich. If you think that they are, you need to get out more, and I mean A LOT more. If your position is that people are innocent because they’re brainwashed — I don’t agree — then the only logical conclusion is that we should eliminate voting and any other public participation in governing society, because people aren’t competent to be making those decisions.

        The U.S. was founded mostly by people who wanted to get richer than they already were, and by religious fanatics. Those people are as far from innocent as it gets — not to mention the great genocide and theft of Native land that they all committed, and their kidnapping and enslaving of people from Africa — and those who still hold those values of worshiping money and religious fanaticism, WHICH IS MOST OF THE U.S., have plenty of responsibility for this mess. Of course the rich & powerful are MORE responsible for obvious reasons, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else is innocent.

  3. In Political Science 101 we were taught that politicians don’t make decisions, large corporations do. THAT WAS IN 1972!!! My point is that this is history, not news. The 2017 Princeton study merely confirmed this, but it’s been true for many decades.

  4. Our tax system is set up so the longer you hold an asset the smaller the tax bite, [short term gains pay less taxes than long term gains] and if you never realize your capital gain you never have to pay taxes. We should do the opposite, the faster you realize a capital gain, the less taxes paid. Maybe, increase the tax rate 1% [or more?] for each year the asset is held. Also, fund the I.R.S. with all the funds they need to go toe to toe with these tax bandits. It will prove to be our best investment since the ”Louisiana Purchase”.

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