The Tax Havens of the Super-Rich

by SAM PIZZIGATI

Are America’s rich getting richer? Certainly. Every official yardstick shows that America’s most affluent are upping their incomes much faster than everyone else.

How fast? Between 1980 and 2010, note economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, incomes for America’s top 1 percent more than doubled after inflation. They now average a little more than $1 million.

The top 0.1 percent saw their incomes more than triple, to $4.9 million, over that same span. And income more than quadrupled for the top 0.01 percent — the richest 16,000 Americans — to nearly $24 million.

And what about the rest of us? After inflation, average incomes for America’s bottom 90 percent actually fell — by 4.8 percent — between 1980 and 2010, from $31,337 to $29,840.

These numbers tell us how much people make. Measuring wealth gauges how much people have. The two, common sense tells us, ought to be related. If incomes are getting much more unequal, then the distribution of our national wealth ought to become much more unequal too.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case. A Congressional Research Service of new Federal Reserve data indicates that the gap between the wealth of America’s most awesomely affluent and everyone else is holding steady.

In 2010, the Fed data show, the top 1 percent held 34.5 percent of the nation’s wealth, almost the same exact share as in 1995, and not that much more than the 30.1 percent share they held in 1989.

These numbers just don’t add up — income is increasingly skewed toward the top, but wealth distribution is holding steady. What can explain this paradox?

Maybe the Federal Reserve isn’t doing a good job of assessing just how much wealth the wealthiest Americans own. Indeed, Fed researchers do acknowledge that they don’t take into account — for privacy reasons — the wealth of anyone listed in the Forbes magazine annual list of America’s 400 richest.

But including these 400 only moves the top 1 percent’s share of America’s wealth up by a bit over a percentage point. It isn’t enough to explain the disconnect between the extraordinary income gains of America’s rich and the modest rise in their share of national wealth.

Maybe the rich are simply living large, wasting their astronomical incomes on caviar, private jets, and other luxuries. But wasteful consumption can’t explain the inequality paradox either. Deep pockets in America’s top 0.01 percent could shell out $5,000 every single day of the year and still have 93 percent of their annual incomes left to spend.

So what in the end can explain the inequality paradox? The London-based Tax Justice Network has an answer. The world’s super rich, the group has just reported, are squirreling away — and concealing — phenomenal quantities of their cash in secret global tax havens.

The Network’s new tax-dodging study “conservatively” computes the total wealth stashed in these havens at $21 trillion. That total could plausibly run as high as $32 trillion.

Americans make up, we know from previous research, almost a third of the global super rich. That would put the American share of unrecorded offshore assets as high as $10 trillion.

Add this $10 trillion to the wealth of America’s top 1 percent and the inequality disconnect between wealth and income largely disappears. Paradox solved.

Now we have to tackle a much bigger challenge: ending the march to ever greater inequality. Shutting down tax havens would make a great place to start.

Sam Pizzigati is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC, editor of the journal Too Much and author of The Rich Don’t Always Win, Seven Stories Press, New York, forthcoming 2012.

This column is distributed by OtherWords.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman