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You have to hand it to the modern class of plutocrats that dominates the American economy. It’s increasingly clear that a goodly number of them really have no sense of shame or boundaries. The latest and powerful exhibit for this proposition can be found in a new story in the New York Times entitled “For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions.”

Here’s the gist:

“With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means.

In recent years, this apparatus has become one of the most powerful avenues of influence for wealthy Americans of all political stripes, including Mr. Loeb and Mr. Cohen, who give heavily to Republicans, and the liberal billionaire George Soros, who has called for higher levies on the rich while at the same time using tax loopholes to bolster his own fortune.

All are among a small group providing much of the early cash for the 2016 presidential campaign.

Operating largely out of public view — in tax court, through arcane legislative provisions and in private negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service — the wealthy have used their influence to steadily whittle away at the government’s ability to tax them. The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans.

The impact on their own fortunes has been stark. Two decades ago, when Bill Clinton was elected president, the 400 highest-earning taxpayers in America paid nearly 27 percent of their income in federal taxes, according to I.R.S. data. By 2012, when President Obama was re-elected, that figure had fallen to less than 17 percent, which is just slightly more than the typical family making $100,000 annually, when payroll taxes are included for both groups.”

The story goes on to explain the creepy and outrageous details of how this obscene money grab by hedge fund managers and other fabulously wealthy parasites has come to fruition (and has been greatly abetted by the Right’s ridiculous and destructive war on the I.R.S.).

All in all, it’s apt story for North Carolinians to ponder at the conclusion of another year in which their own state government has handed millions upon millions to the state’s wealthiest residents while actually raising taxes slightly on folks at the bottom. Let’s hope it causes even some local market fundamentalists to reevaluate their stance and spurs people of all ideologies to action in 2016.

Commentary

Researchers Lawrence Mishel and Alyssa Davis at the Economic Policy Institute released some pretty amazing new numbers today on the growth in American CEO pay over the last few decades:

“Over the last several decades, inflation-adjusted CEO compensation increased from $1.5 million in 1978 to $16.3 million in 2014, or 997 percent, a rise almost double stock market growth. Over the same time period, a typical worker’s wages grew very little: the annual compensation, adjusted for inflation, of the average private-sector production and nonsupervisory worker (comprising 82 percent of total payroll employment) rose from $48,000 in 1978 to just $53,200 in 2014, an increase of only 10.9 percent. Due to this unequal growth, average top CEOs now make over 300 times what typical workers earn.

Although corporations are posting record-high profits and the stock market is booming, the wages of most workers remain stagnant, indicating they are not participating equally in prosperity. Meanwhile, CEO compensation continues to rise even faster than the stock market.

In order to curtail the growth of CEO pay, we need to implement higher marginal income tax rates and promote rules such as “say on pay.” At the same time, we need to implement an agenda that promotes broad-based wage growth so typical workers can share more widely in our economic growth.”

Ah…the genius of the free market.

Click here to see their data in the form of some powerful graphics.

Commentary

Be sure to check out Chris Fitzsimon’s “Monday Numbers” column this morning. It will quickly disabuse you of any notion that North Carolina’s hard turn to the political right has been helpful to the state’s key indicators of success. For instance:

1.1 billion—amount in dollars of the latest estimate of cost of the 2013 tax plan in the 2014-2015 fiscal year by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (Ibid)

66—percentage of tax cut passed by the 2013 General Assembly that will go to the wealthiest one percent of North Carolinians (“Final tax plan pits at risk what makes North Carolina great,” N.C. Budget & Tax Center, August, 2013)

940,000—amount in dollars of annual income of wealthiest one percent of North Carolinians (Ibid)

14.5—percentage reduction in per pupil spending in North Carolina from 2007-2008 to 2014-2015 when adjusted for inflation (“Most States Still Funding Schools Less Than Before the Recession,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, October 16, 2014)

Read the entire column by clicking here.

Commentary

The maddening data on wealth inequality in America have now gotten so ridiculously out of hand that the headline for this post really does sum up what ought to be the single, defining issue in today’s election. For confirmation, check out the following amazing graphic from the good people at Inequality.org.

Wealth inequality