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 wealthy get a free lunch on capital gains taxes. Let’s fix that. VIDEO SOURCES.

How could changing capital gains taxes more revenue? Grace Enda and William G. Gale. 2020 1 14. Brookings. The rich benefit as Democrats retreat from tax on unrealized capital gains Greg Iacurci. CNBC. 2021 12 29. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/29/the-rich-benefit-as-democrats-forgo-tax-on-unrealized-capital-gains.html The Many Problems With Taxing

Bernie Sanders Is Wrong About the American ‘Oligarchs’

“We do not have oligarchs in the U.S. the way countries like Russia do. Our millionaires and billionaires are prevented from pulling political puppet strings both by custom and by campaign finance laws which cap their financial contributions to some degree and require disclosures. Though companies do sometimes successfully lobby for government contracts and subsidies—Musk’s hypocrisy has been widely documented on this front—we don’t have widespread, unchecked corporatism where the government always serves to further companies’ bottom lines, or where companies become exempt from government scrutiny for having curried favor with the right people. And free marketeers tend to believe that the existing patchwork of subsidies and handouts ought to be stopped since they serve as market distortions, artificially propping up companies that wouldn’t succeed or be competitive on their own merits.

If Sanders’ point is not merely that wealthy people exercise undue influence on the political process (as oligarch implies) but rather that wealth accumulation always and everywhere ought to be prevented, as he insinuates when he mentions their superyachts, that’s an even weaker critique. People accumulate extreme wealth in this country most often through inventing a product or founding a company that millions or billions of people end up valuing highly. Consider Jeff Bezos, worth $177 billion, per 2021 numbers; Elon Musk, $151 billion; Bill Gates, $124 billion; Mark Zuckerberg, $97 billion; Warren Buffett, $96 billion; Larry Ellison, $93 billion; Larry Page, $91.5 billion; Sergey Brin, $89 billion. More often than not, that process is iterative, with tons of failures before striking gold. When a company is successful, those who were involved in its founding often scatter, taking their earnings and intellect and founding new companies, starting the whole iterative process over again.”

“Financial planning firm Ramsey Solutions’ 2021 millionaire study found that 79 percent of the 10,000 U.S. millionaires surveyed did not receive any inheritance from their families. Of those who did receive inheritances, who are in the top 1 percent, Federal Reserve data show those inheritances were to the tune of $719,000 on average. More than half of America’s billion-dollar companies have at least one immigrant founder who came to the U.S. as a kid. Extreme wealth, by and large, isn’t generated by investing inherited money, but by starting companies that bring value to millions of customers.”

“The ’08 financial crisis almost brought Tesla crashing down, and disastrous Falcon 1 launches around that same time almost left SpaceX in pieces. “That historic fourth flight on September 28, 2008 made the Falcon 1 the first privately built liquid-fueled booster to reach orbit,” writes Pethokoukis. “It saved the company. But would that launch have happened if Musk had left PayPal with $60 million less? Would Tesla have muddled into 2009 and beyond? Kaplan doesn’t think so.”

Nor does Musk, in fact.

Central planners like Biden and Sanders don’t appreciate how fragile many of today’s biggest and boldest companies—SpaceX, Tesla, and Amazon—once were. Serial entrepreneurs, who exit one venture and quickly invest their earnings in another, are oftentimes wealthy enough at exit that they would be hit with wealth taxes if the Biden plan or any of its evil twins become law. But two things must be kept in mind: Their wealth is rarely liquid, and that money often gets quickly invested into other ventures that we would lose out on if it had been taxed away.”

The Secret IRS Files: Trove of Never-Before-Seen Records Reveal How the Wealthiest Avoid Income Tax

“how do megabillionaires pay their megabills while opting for $1 salaries and hanging onto their stock? According to public documents and experts, the answer for some is borrowing money — lots of it.

For regular people, borrowing money is often something done out of necessity, say for a car or a home. But for the ultrawealthy, it can be a way to access billions without producing income, and thus, income tax.

The tax math provides a clear incentive for this. If you own a company and take a huge salary, you’ll pay 37% in income tax on the bulk of it. Sell stock and you’ll pay 20% in capital gains tax — and lose some control over your company. But take out a loan, and these days you’ll pay a single-digit interest rate and no tax; since loans must be paid back, the IRS doesn’t consider them income. Banks typically require collateral, but the wealthy have plenty of that.

The vast majority of the ultrawealthy’s loans do not appear in the tax records obtained by ProPublica since they are generally not disclosed to the IRS. But occasionally, the loans are disclosed in securities filings. In 2014, for example, Oracle revealed that its CEO, Ellison, had a credit line secured by about $10 billion of his shares.

Last year Tesla reported that Musk had pledged some 92 million shares, which were worth about $57.7 billion as of May 29, 2021, as collateral for personal loans.”

“after decades of wealth accumulation, the estate tax is supposed to serve as a backstop, allowing authorities an opportunity to finally take a piece of giant fortunes before they pass to a new generation. But in reality, preparing for death is more like the last stage of tax avoidance for the ultrawealthy.”

“Normally when someone sells an asset, even a minute before they die, they owe 20% capital gains tax. But at death, that changes. Any capital gains till that moment are not taxed. This allows the ultrarich and their heirs to avoid paying billions in taxes. The “step-up in basis” is widely recognized by experts across the political spectrum as a flaw in the code.

Then comes the estate tax, which, at 40%, is among the highest in the federal code. This tax is supposed to give the government one last chance to get a piece of all those unrealized gains and other assets the wealthiest Americans accumulate over their lifetimes.

It’s clear, though, from aggregate IRS data, tax research and what little trickles into the public arena about estate planning of the wealthy that they can readily escape turning over almost half of the value of their estates. Many of the richest create foundations for philanthropic giving, which provide large charitable tax deductions during their lifetimes and bypass the estate tax when they die.

Wealth managers offer clients a range of opaque and complicated trusts that allow the wealthiest Americans to give large sums to their heirs without paying estate taxes. The IRS data obtained by ProPublica gives some insight into the ultrawealthy’s estate planning, showing hundreds of these trusts.

The result is that large fortunes can pass largely intact from one generation to the next. Of the 25 richest people in America today, about a quarter are heirs”

ProPublica’s Bombshell Tax Report That Wasn’t

“Despite ProPublica’s best efforts to make the information enclosed within seem damning, the data tell us little we didn’t already know. For the 2018 tax year, the last year for which we have data, the top 1 percent paid over 40 percent of federal income taxes, despite earning just under 21 percent of total adjusted gross income (AGI). The bottom 50 percent of taxpayers earned 11.6 percent of total AGI, but paid less than 3 percent of income taxes. The same story holds when looking at all revenue sources too, so it’s not just the income tax that is progressive.

ProPublica, however, tries to make the case that the wealthy are getting away with murder through the tax code, so they “do a calculation that has never been done before,” comparing growth in wealth over the course of a year to taxable income. They use this to calculate an individual’s “true tax rate,” which is sort of like handing out wins in a baseball game in the middle of the early innings and calling it the “true outcome” of the contest.

It’s hard to overstate how nonsensical this comparison is (which is perhaps why it’s never been done before). Our tax system rightly does not tax growth in one’s wealth until it is realized as income. After all, the alternative is a monstrously complex and unfair system of wealth taxation that developed countries have avoided.

The reason that wealth isn’t taxable is fairly straightforward: You aren’t directly benefiting from it until it’s turned into income (at which point it is taxable). Wealthy Americans may not pay taxes on the growth that their net worth sees, but should they wish to sell assets that have appreciated in value, they would be liable for capital gains taxes on that growth.”

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.”