I have a hard time getting excited one way or the other about the otherworldly adventures of the billionaire class.
I’d just like Mr. Bezos to pay his taxes on the planet where he currently resides.
A ProPublica report published last month revealed, “In 2007, Jeff Bezos, then a multibillionaire and now the world’s richest man, did not pay a penny in federal income taxes.”
It wasn’t like Bezos fell on hard times in the mid-2000s. According to Forbes magazine, his personal fortune increased by $3.8 billion in 2007. Yet Bezos somehow avoided taking a hit from the IRS.
“How did a person enjoying that sort of wealth explosion end up paying no income tax?” asked ProPublica. Well, the forensic investigators explained, “In that year, Bezos, who filed his taxes jointly with his then-wife, MacKenzie Scott, reported a paltry (for him) $46 million in income, largely from interest and dividend payments on outside investments. He was able to offset every penny he earned with losses from side investments and various deductions, like interest expenses on debts and the vague catchall category of ‘other expenses.’”
But Bezos didn’t just get lucky in 2007.
“In 2011, a year in which his wealth held roughly steady at $18 billion, Bezos filed a tax return reporting he lost money—his income that year was more than offset by investment losses. What’s more, because, according to the tax law, he made so little, he even claimed and received a $4,000 tax credit for his children,” reported ProPublica, which added, “His tax avoidance is even more striking if you examine 2006 to 2018, a period for which ProPublica has complete data. Bezos’ wealth increased by $127 billion, according to Forbes, but he reported a total of $6.5 billion in income. The $1.4 billion he paid in personal federal taxes is a massive number—yet it amounts to a 1.1 percent true tax rate on the rise in his fortune.”
That was before a year and a half of pandemic profiteering that saw the very rich get very much richer.
“Over the last 16 months, since the formal beginning of the pandemic lockdown, the combined wealth of 713 U.S. billionaires has surged by $1.8 trillion, a gain of almost 60 percent. The total combined wealth of U.S. billionaires increased from $2.9 trillion on March 18, 2020 to $4.7 trillion on July 9, 2021,” explains Chuck Collins, who directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good for the Institute for Policy Studies.
Rocketman leads the pack.
“Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, almost a ‘double-centi-billionaire’ with a net worth of nearly $197 billion, is up 74 percent over the last 13 months,” noted Collins. “If he was still married to his ex-wife, MacKenzie Scott, together they would be worth another $60 billion or so—giving the couple a net worth of a quarter trillion dollars.”
Bezos keeps piling up cash at a jaw-dropping rate.
In early July, after the Pentagon canceled a cloud-computing contract with Microsoft—clearing the way for Amazon to make a grab for the $10 billion project—Amazon’s stock value jumped 4.7 percent in a single day. Bezos’s wealth spiked $8.4 billion, according to Bloomberg.
“In one day, Jeff Bezos’ worth increased by $8.4 billion. His average Amazon warehouse worker earned $120 in the same day,” observed Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.). “What a shame to become the richest person of all time and not empower those that work for you?”
And what a shame, noted Representative Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), that on more than a few days in recent years, that Amazon warehouse worker paid more in taxes than Bezos.
Pocan ran all the numbers and concluded that it is time to “Tax the rich.”
The congressman is onto something. When so-called “deficit hawks” question whether the United States can afford to pay for the modest improvements in social welfare that are outlined in the $3.5 trillion budget proposal that President Biden and Senate Budget Committee chair Bernie Sanders advanced last week, the answer is that of course there is enough money to add vision, dental, and hearing care to Medicare. And to guarantee family and medical leave. And to expand home care and community-based services for the elderly and people with disabilities. And to cut prescription drug costs. The same goes for proposals to extend the child tax credit and to provide universal pre-K programs for 3- and 4-year-old children. And to make higher education either free or more affordable for millions of students. And to increase nutrition assistance and funding for affordable housing. And to meet climate goals of 80 percent clean electricity and percent economy-wide carbon emissions by 2030.
It’s all doable.
The money is readily available, as Sanders said when he presented the budget plan that not only outlines ambitious spending proposals but that also details the progressive tax policies that will pay for them. “For a very long time, the American people have seen the very rich getting richer and government developing policies, which allow them to pay, in some cases, not a nickel in federal income taxes,” explained the senator. “They’ve seen corporations make huge profits—in some cases, they’re not paying a nickel in taxes. And what this legislation says, among many, many other things, is that those days are gone.”
Of course, deficit hawks will whine. But former US secretary of labor Robert Reich, a noted economist, says, “Don’t listen to Republicans claiming we can’t afford to pass this reconciliation package. Jeff Bezos added $8 billion to his wealth in a single day last week. If we actually tax the billionaires, we can give the American people what they need and deserve.”
That could require Bezos to curtail some of his extraterrestrial activities.
But it will allow the rest of us to make this corner of Planet Earth a little more habitable.