Friday, January 20, 2012

Why corporate welfare provokes so little outrage

If I burgle your home when you're out and riffle through all your drawers looking for cash but only find one dollar, you'll still remember what I did to you for the rest of your life. Though the cash stolen was negligible, the invasion of your privacy and implied threat to your safety will still have quite an impact.

If I persuade you to invest all your money with me and I take it, as Bernie Madoff did, you'll certainly remember the one who ruined your economic life, as long as you live.

But what if I don't invade your home to steal from you, and I don't take all of your money. Suppose instead that I stole only one dollar from you--and from every other household in America--but that I did it by siphoning the dollar out of the taxes you pay.

I'll have stolen as much from Americans as Bernie Madoff did, but by spreading the theft around so broadly, and took it from you so quietly--you might not ever know I did it, or only find out decades later--it's hard to get worked up, even though the scale of the human crime is as big as Bernie Madoff's.

And that's what Wall Street's Masters of the Universe do. Their labor--called "investment" for tax purposes--is legally taxed (because they bribed Congress to make it so) at about half the rate of high-income managers in manufacturing and service provider sectors. Their assets are squirreled away abroad in places like the Cayman Islands, which is often--even usually--illegal, but takes large, sophisticated teams of forensic accountants to track down the malfeasance. Whereas IRS computers routinely catch most of the tax cheating done by average people. And successful GOP efforts at not just deregulation but defunding of regulatoratory agencies has hamstrung efforts to hold rich cheats to account.

I could go on, but the upshot is that by both legal but unethical and hard-to-nail-down illegal efforts, folks like Governor Romney take a dollar out of each of our pockets without disturbing anything in our homes or concentrating the loss in a few people who may squawk about it.

It's just a buck. Nothing to be annoyed about.


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