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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

Another day in the absurdly unequal American economy, another one percenter (this time, the boss of a regulated “public” utility) getting paid to do nothing. The Charlotte Observer has the latest such story:

“Piedmont Natural Gas Chief Executive Officer Tom Skains will receive nearly $14.4 million in severance pay when Duke Energy completes its purchase of the Charlotte-based gas company.

The $4.9 billion acquisition, which was announced in late October, is expected to close in late 2016. Both Piedmont and Duke have said Skains’ decision to retire was his own.

Skains’ severance package includes over $5 million in cash, $8.6 million of equity and a bonus of $749,297, according to a securities filing this week….

Skains is the only Piedmont executive who has made public his plans to leave the company when the deal closes, making him the only one at this time eligible for the severance benefits.”

Skains’ big score calls to mind the great Calvin Trillin and the poem he authored for The Nation magazine a few years back:

The Best Thing You Can Be Is CEO

The best thing you can be is CEO.
No matter what, you always get your dough.
However many people out of work,
You still get every single little perk.
If fired, you are properly consoled,
By floating ‘neath a parachute of gold.
The best thing you can be is CEO.
No matter what, you always get your dough.

Commentary

The good folks at Inequality.org are out with the latest edition of Too Much Online and it includes a wellspring of damning new stats and findings about runaway CEO pay and the gaps between the super-rich and everyone else. The latest issue also feature a new and disturbing infographic on CEO compensation. Scroll down to see the most amazing stat on the comparative growth rates of the pay received by CEO’s and average workers.

CEO swagger

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

The good folks at Inequality.org continue to do a great job of documenting America’s obscene and metastasizing wealth and income gaps. This week, in their online newsletter Too Much, they highlight as fascinating comparison between French and U.S. households when it comes to wealth. As you can see, Americans top the French when it comes to average wealth because the rich here are so much richer and all of their holdings gets factored in. When one looks at median wealth however (i.e. the wealth of the most typical adult) the French leave us in la poussière.  This graphic from the Too Much website tells the grim story.

US France wealth stats