It is a tax trick that has been around for years, but the pace of companies moving their headquarters overseas to lower their tax rate has sped up in the last decade.American firms have moved overseas at a time when a growing number of countries have reduced tax rates. These “inversions” have been taking place as Congress remains at odds over lowering the corporate tax rate of 35 percent, one of the highest rates in the world.Read: U.S. policymakers gird for rash of corporate expatriationsThe Obama administration and many lawmakers agree that tax inversions, shelters and all other maner of tax alchemy are an outgrowth of a broken corporate tax code. Yet they say the failings of the tax system are no excuse for companies not to pay their fair share.
Elizabeth Warren just destroyed Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen over JPMorgans “living will.”In the Dodd-Frank Act, there is a provision, known as a living will, that must describe a companys strategy for, “rapid and orderly resolution in the event of material financial distress or failure of the company.”This provision comes out of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, which triggered the financial crisis and took three years to resolve.Warren has some concerns regarding JPMorgans living will, which she notes has been approved each of the last years.Compared to JPMorgan, Warren said Lehman was “tiny.”Warren noted that at the time of its bankruptcy, Lehman had $639 billion in assets; today, JPMorgan has nearly $2.5 trillion in assets.
The growing wealth gap in developed countries is an incredibly disturbing development. New research suggests that inequality might be growing even faster than we thought. Worryingly, this concentration of wealth has coincided with a concentration of debt at the bottom, as families struggle to maintain their standards of living with stagnating incomes. But even this data understates wealth inequality, argues Gabriel Zucman in “The Hidden Wealth of Nations,” because official statistics fail to capture offshore wealth holdings.Zucman is an assistant professor of economics at the London School of Economics and a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley. At only 27, he’s already co-authored papers with economics superstar Thomas Piketty. His most recent paper estimates that global offshore holdings total $7.6 trillion and rob governments of hundreds of billions in tax revenues each year. He also finds that over the past few decades, companies have stored more and more profits overseas, making the effective corporate tax rate less than half the tax rate on the books.All of this is happening at the same time as Thomas Piketty’s blockbuster treatise, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” has brought the issue of wealth and income inequality to the forefront of the political discussion by introducing historical data on inequality. Piketty argues that the best way to address the data, political and economic concerns of wealth is a progressive international tax on wealth holdings, as well as policies to build wealth for the middle class. What was once a technocratic discussion about efficiency has become a deeply political debate about who gets what, as slow growth makes distribution more important. Even the most conservative economists have to grapple albeit clumsily with addressing the moral dimension of inequality.
“The game is rigged,” writes Senator Elizabeth Warren in her new book A Fighting Chance. It’s rigged because the rich and their lobbyists have rigged the rules of the game to their favor. The rules are reflected in a tax code and bankruptcy laws that have seen the greatest transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich in U.S. history.
America has the most billionaires in the world, but not a single U.S. city ranks among the world’s most livable cities. Not a single U.S. airport is among the top 100 airports in the world. Our bridges, road and rail are falling apart, and our middle class is being guttered out thanks to three decades of stagnant wages, while the top 1 percent enjoys 95 percent of all economic gains.
A rigged tax code and a bloated military budget are starving the federal and state governments of the revenue it needs to invest in infrastructure, which means today America looks increasingly like a second rate nation, and now new data shows America’s intellectual resources are also in decline.
For the past three decades, the Republican Party has waged a dangerous assault on the very idea of public education. Tax cuts for the rich have been balanced with spending cuts to education. During the New Deal era of the 1940s to 1970s, public schools were the great leveler of America. They were our great achievement. It was universal education for all, but today it’s education for those fortunate enough to be born into wealthy families or live in wealthy school districts. The right’s strategy of defunding public education leaves parents with the option of sending their kids to a for-profit school or a theological school that teaches kids our ancestors kept dinosaurs as pets.
The response to French economist Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” has been surprising, to say the least. Though the Amazon best-seller is well written and artfully translated from French by Arthur Goldhammer, the 696-page text is filled with enough charts and footnotes to occupy experts for months. Indeed, the work was based on decades of research conducted by an entire team of specialists tracking centuries of income and wealth patterns.
The book presents a simple thesis: Unchecked, capitalism’s natural dynamics lead to an unequal concentration of wealth. This trend is increasing at a rapid rate; absent a wealth-destroying catastrophe such as war or depression or powerful new egalitarian political movements, we can expect that to continue.
Here comes another billionaire who thinks that anyone who talks about income inequality is a Nazi; this time it’s Ken Langone, co-founder of Home Depot. I don’t have anything useful to say about this, other than the observation that there must be a lot of these guys. I mean, there aren’t that many billionaires, so that coming up with multiple examples of the genus who not only believe that progressives are just like Hitler but are willing to say so in public must indicate that a substantial proportion of our billionaires share this belief, but more privately. Luckily, great wealth doesn’t bring great political influence in modern America — does it?
But Jonathan Cohn’s report on Langone brought to mind an earlier rant by the same guy, in which he denounced yours truly and my “high-fallutin’ thoughts and ideas.” And I think, now that I remember that, that this rant (and others like it) gives a partial clue to the mystery of the continuing popularity of the Wall Street macro canon, despite its total failure in practice.