The ultrarich are getting cozy in America’s tax havens at everyone else’s expense

“One of the revelations of the Pandora Papers leaked in 2021 was the proliferation of tax havens inside the US. They’re used not just by wealthy Americans but by foreign politicians, business leaders, and criminals as well. South Dakota in particular has become a destination for the wealthy to stash their riches, and it currently hosts more than $512 billion in trusts, according to the IPS report. The ultrarich have parked trillions of dollars in secretive trusts within US tax haven states.
“It’s not just South Dakota, it’s not just Delaware,” said Chuck Collins, director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies and one of the authors of the tax haven report. “A bunch of states are in the chase.”

The benefit for states is attracting businesses and jobs, but there’s little evidence that becoming a trust-friendly tax haven boosts job growth for states. Populous states like Texas and Florida are getting in on the game, too. It could accelerate what Collins calls a “race to the bottom,” in which more states change laws to attract the trust industry.

A trust is a contract that stipulates what assets one person wants to pass on to another. When assets are put into a trust, the original wealth-holder technically no longer owns them. A third-party entity, known as a trustee, manages the assets for a named beneficiary until the terms of the trust are fulfilled — for example, a parent establishes a trust for their child that will transfer assets to them when they turn 25 or upon the parent’s death. A trust is supposed to end at some point, and ownership of assets is supposed to pass to the beneficiary; it’s a way station for wealth, not the final destination.

Except that a growing number of trusts don’t end. None of the 13 tax haven states has a strict life span limit on trusts. Several states have abolished a rule limiting the life span of trusts altogether. Others set the limit somewhere between 300 and 1,000 years. By carefully setting up a dynasty trust that lasts generations, a wealthy family can avoid paying inheritance or estate taxes for millennia. These trusts often obfuscate who really owns the assets, so they can continue using them — assets like real estate or yachts — or take out “loans” from the trust without triggering gift taxes. The secrecy and confusing ownership structures of trusts are big problems. The government can’t tax something that legally doesn’t belong to a person anymore, and it certainly can’t tax assets that it doesn’t even know exist.”

The Biden Administration Is Taking From the Poor and Giving to the Rich

“Biden announced that he will—unilaterally, mind you, and for no apparent reason that I can see—extend the pause on student loan payments until the end of the year and forgive up to $10,000 for those persons making less than $125,000 a year. This generosity with other people’s money extends up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients.
As David Stockman, a former director of the Congressional Office of Management and Budget, reported recently, “Only 37% of Americans have a 4-year college degree, only 13% have graduate degrees and just 3% have a PhD or similar professional degree. Yet a full 56% of student loan debt is held by people who went to grad school and 20% is owed by the tiny 3% sliver with PhDs.”

Picture two young married lawyers who together earn just under $250,000 and are on their way to making even more mon ey in the future. They will be able to collect from Uncle Joe a nice bonus of $40,000, taken from the pockets of the many people who didn’t go to college—perhaps because they did not want to take on debt—and from those who have responsibly already paid back their debt.”

The Politics of DNA

“”Luck,” E.B. White once said, “is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men.” They worked hard, no doubt, to get where they are. But they also benefited enormously from good fortune, not just in life but in life’s building blocks. A fortunate combination of thousands of slight genetic differences boosted their intelligence, motivation, openness to experience, task perseverance, executive function, and interpersonal skills.

“Like being born to a rich or poor family, being born with a certain set of genetic variants is the outcome of a lottery of birth,” the behavioral geneticist Kathryn Paige Harden argues in The Genetic Lottery. “And, like social class, the outcome of the genetic lottery is a systemic force that matters for who gets more, and who gets less, of nearly everything we care about in society.””

How meritocracy harms everyone — even the winners

“the bulk of the reason why our colleges, particularly our elite colleges, are filled with kids of rich parents isn’t that. Instead, it’s that rich parents spend enormous sums of money not on bribing anybody but on educating their children, on getting their children into prestigious kindergartens and high schools, on coaches and tutors and music teachers, and this means the children of rich people simply do better on the merits.

And so the big problem that we face isn’t merely that the rich cheat, it’s that the meritocracy favors the rich even when everybody plays by the rules.”