FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Tax Havens of the Super-Rich

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.

More articles by:

Sam Pizzigati writes on inequality for the Institute for Policy Studies. His latest book is The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970 (Seven Stories Press). 

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
September 20, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Unipolar Governance of the Multipolar World
Rob Urie
Strike for the Environment, Strike for Social Justice, Strike!
Miguel Gutierrez
El Desmadre: The Colonial Roots of Anti-Mexican Violence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pompeo and Circumstance
Andrew Levine
Why Democrats Really Should Not All Get Along But Sometimes Must Anyway
Louis Proyect
A Rebellion for the Wild West
T.J. Coles
A Taste of Their Own Medicine: the Politicians Who Robbed Iranians and Libyans Fear the Same for Brexit Britain
H. Bruce Franklin
How We Launched Our Forever War in the Middle East
Lee Hall
Mayor Obedience Training, From the Pet Products Industry
Louis Yako
Working in America: Paychecks for Silence
Michael D. Yates
Radical Education
Jonathan Cook
Israelis Have Shown Netanyahu the Door. Can He Inflict More Damage Before He Exits?
Valerie Reynoso
The Rising Monopoly of Monsanto-Bayer
John Steppling
American Psychopathy
Ralph Nader
25 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare for the 2020 Elections
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid Made Official: Deal of the Century is a Ploy and Annexation is the New Reality
Vincent Emanuele
Small Town Values
John Feffer
The Threat of Bolton Has Retreated, But Not the Threat of War
David Rosen
Evangelicals, Abstinence, Abortion and the Mainstreaming of Sex
Judy Rohrer
“Make ‘America’ White Again”: White Resentment Under the Obama & Trump Presidencies
John W. Whitehead
The Police State’s Language of Force
Kathleen Wallace
Noblesse the Sleaze
Farzana Versey
Why Should Kashmiris be Indian?
Nyla Ali Khan
Why Are Modi and His Cohort Paranoid About Diversity?
Shawn Fremstad
The Official U.S. Poverty Rate is Based on a Hopelessly Out-of-Date Metric
Mel Gurtov
No War for Saudi Oil!
Robert Koehler
‘I’m Afraid You Have Humans’
David Swanson
Every Peace Group and Activist Should Join Strike DC for the Earth’s Climate
Scott Owen
In Defense of Non-violent Actions in Revolutionary Times
Jesse Jackson
Can America Break Its Gun Addiction?
Priti Gulati Cox
Sidewalk Museum of Congress: Who Says Kansas is Flat?
Mohamad Shaaf
The Current Political Crisis: Its Roots in Concentrated Capital with the Resulting Concentrated Political Power
Max Moran
Revolving Door Project Probes Thiel’s White House Connection
Arshad Khan
Unhappy India
Nick Pemberton
Norman Fucking Rockwell! and 24 Other Favorite Albums
Nicky Reid
The Bigotry of ‘Hate Speech’ and Facebook Fascism
Paul Armentano
To Make Vaping Safer, Legalize Cannabis
Jill Richardson
Punching Through Bad Headlines
Jessicah Pierre
What the Felicity Huffman Scandal Says About America
John Kendall Hawkins
Draining the Swamp, From the Beginning of Time
Julian Rose
Four Funerals and a Wedding: A Brief History of the War on Humanity
Victor Grossman
Film, Music and Elections in Germany
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ahmet Altan’s “I Will Never See the World Again”
David Yearsley
Jazz is Activism
Elliot Sperber
Captains of Industry 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail