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America’s runaway inequality has an engine: our unjust tax system. Even as they became fabulously wealthy, the ultra-rich have seen their taxes collapse to levels last seen in the 1920s. Meanwhile, working-class Americans have been asked to pay more. The Triumph of Injustice presents a forensic investigation into this dramatic transformation, written by two economists who r America’s runaway inequality has an engine: our unjust tax system. Even as they became fabulously wealthy, the ultra-rich have seen their taxes collapse to levels last seen in the 1920s. Meanwhile, working-class Americans have been asked to pay more. The Triumph of Injustice presents a forensic investigation into this dramatic transformation, written by two economists who revolutionized the study of inequality. Eschewing anecdotes and case studies, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman offer a comprehensive view of America’s tax system, based on new statistics covering all taxes paid at all levels of government. Their conclusion? For the first time in more than a century, billionaires now pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. Blending history and cutting-edge economic analysis, and writing in lively and jargon-free prose, Saez and Zucman dissect the deliberate choices (and sins of indecision) that have brought us to today: the gradual exemption of capital owners; the surge of a new tax avoidance industry; and the spiral of tax competition among nations. With clarity and concision, they explain how America turned away from the most progressive tax system in history to embrace policies that only serve to compound the wealth of a few. But The Triumph of Injustice is much more than a laser-sharp analysis of one of the great political and intellectual failures of our time. Saez and Zucman propose a visionary, democratic, and practical reinvention of taxes, outlining reforms that can allow tax justice to triumph in today’s globalized world and democracy to prevail over concentrated wealth. A pioneering companion website allows anyone to evaluate proposals made by the authors, and to develop their own alternative tax reform at taxjusticenow.org.


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America’s runaway inequality has an engine: our unjust tax system. Even as they became fabulously wealthy, the ultra-rich have seen their taxes collapse to levels last seen in the 1920s. Meanwhile, working-class Americans have been asked to pay more. The Triumph of Injustice presents a forensic investigation into this dramatic transformation, written by two economists who r America’s runaway inequality has an engine: our unjust tax system. Even as they became fabulously wealthy, the ultra-rich have seen their taxes collapse to levels last seen in the 1920s. Meanwhile, working-class Americans have been asked to pay more. The Triumph of Injustice presents a forensic investigation into this dramatic transformation, written by two economists who revolutionized the study of inequality. Eschewing anecdotes and case studies, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman offer a comprehensive view of America’s tax system, based on new statistics covering all taxes paid at all levels of government. Their conclusion? For the first time in more than a century, billionaires now pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. Blending history and cutting-edge economic analysis, and writing in lively and jargon-free prose, Saez and Zucman dissect the deliberate choices (and sins of indecision) that have brought us to today: the gradual exemption of capital owners; the surge of a new tax avoidance industry; and the spiral of tax competition among nations. With clarity and concision, they explain how America turned away from the most progressive tax system in history to embrace policies that only serve to compound the wealth of a few. But The Triumph of Injustice is much more than a laser-sharp analysis of one of the great political and intellectual failures of our time. Saez and Zucman propose a visionary, democratic, and practical reinvention of taxes, outlining reforms that can allow tax justice to triumph in today’s globalized world and democracy to prevail over concentrated wealth. A pioneering companion website allows anyone to evaluate proposals made by the authors, and to develop their own alternative tax reform at taxjusticenow.org.

30 review for The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kristine

    basically just read this to argue with my d*d

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    A must-read!! I want to shout this on the Rooftop with a megaphone: our tax system is totally regressive. The wealthy evade taxes. They pay less than their share! This does not have to be the case. We, the middle class and working class, can’t evade taxes and yet we the idiots keep voting for people who let corporations and billionaires escape to tax shelters. The history in this book (though super short) was really fascinating. Hey, guess why our tax system is regressive? It’s the same reason f A must-read!! I want to shout this on the Rooftop with a megaphone: our tax system is totally regressive. The wealthy evade taxes. They pay less than their share! This does not have to be the case. We, the middle class and working class, can’t evade taxes and yet we the idiots keep voting for people who let corporations and billionaires escape to tax shelters. The history in this book (though super short) was really fascinating. Hey, guess why our tax system is regressive? It’s the same reason for all the other flaws in our constitution? Did you guess yet? Yup. It’s slavery.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Richard Thompson

    I already know too much about taxes and tax avoidance schemes to have found most of the historical and background material to be very informative. I work on a lot of deals where an essential part of the deal structuring is to ensure tax efficiency. Sometimes this is picking a structure designed to put more money in my client's pocket, but more often it is about avoiding tax traps that can destroy legitimate transactions, if the traps are not identified and structured around. This kind of tax pla I already know too much about taxes and tax avoidance schemes to have found most of the historical and background material to be very informative. I work on a lot of deals where an essential part of the deal structuring is to ensure tax efficiency. Sometimes this is picking a structure designed to put more money in my client's pocket, but more often it is about avoiding tax traps that can destroy legitimate transactions, if the traps are not identified and structured around. This kind of tax planning will always exist, even under a simplified and fairer tax code, and though it can be abused, it is generally totally legitimate. Then there is the other kind of tax planning that is sponsored by some of the biggest law and accounting firms that has no legitimate business purpose and really just boils down to tax evasion. It should be stopped. I kept wanting the authors to get to their program. What's the fix? What's the fix? When they finally got there, I thought that they had some pretty good ideas. I liked the idea of taxing multinational corporations based in the US on the difference between US rates and tax haven rates for the parts of their income that get allocated to tax haven countries. I liked the idea of getting a coalition of major countries to tax corporate profits at a minimum agreed rate and imposing sanctions on countries that charge less. I liked the idea of charging foreign multinationals tax on their US sales to the extent that their effective international tax rate is less than the agreed international minimum. All of these things seemed to be sensible ways to attack offshore tax shelters that would not require an impossible amount of political will. I'm also good with the philosophy behind their proposals for a wealth tax and for equalizing ordinary income and capital gain rates, though I doubt that either of those things is going to happen at any time in the near future, and I thought that their National Income Tax idea had some good thoughts behind it but was too half baked as presented in the book to be a coherent basis for legislation or national policy. But to be fair to the authors, they did exactly what this kind of book ought to do -- give the background, present some really solid ideas, show how those ideas can be expanded and then give the readers a couple of moonshots to stimulate discussion and further thinking. I spent most of the book nodding my head in agreement, so when I occasionally disagreed, it was like a spirited discussion with a friend.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Wick Welker

    Let's stop protecting the mega rich. Saez does a remarkable job in The Triumph of Injustice in teaching about the current tax code, putting it into context, and explaining the ramifications and significance of the US tax system. The bottom line is that while the US federal income tax appears progressive (meaning taxes increases as personal income increases) it is actually almost entirely regressive (meaning there is more tax burden on the poor and working class.) There is little doubt at the end Let's stop protecting the mega rich. Saez does a remarkable job in The Triumph of Injustice in teaching about the current tax code, putting it into context, and explaining the ramifications and significance of the US tax system. The bottom line is that while the US federal income tax appears progressive (meaning taxes increases as personal income increases) it is actually almost entirely regressive (meaning there is more tax burden on the poor and working class.) There is little doubt at the end of this book about who are tax code currently benefits: the mega rich. Half the US population lives on $18K a year. <-please read that again. 122 million adults make $18K a year in the United States. Adjusting for inflation, this income has been FLAT since the 1980s. The middle class currently makes $75K a year. Despite conventional wisdom, the middle class income is not vanishing. The upper middle class, 22 million Americans, make about $220K a year. The richest 1% of Americans, 2.4 million people, are very very far from the upper class making around $1.5M a year. The top 1% earns almost TWICE as much income as the ENTIRE WORKING CLASS which is 50x larger than the top 1%. In 2018, for the first time in 100 years, the top 400 richest Americans paid less taxes than the working class. There are very specific reasons for the wealth inequality. It has not been a natural drift, but intentional regulation of taxing and business ushered in the 1980s and perpetuated by every American President since with the capstone of the injustice occurring with Trump's 20% corporate tax. The low corporate tax has so many more ramifications than I previously thought before reading this book. Yes, Trump's tax plan marginally lowered income tax (with a 5 year expiration date) but federal income tax is only one tiny part of the tax story. Only people pay taxes. Corporations don't really pay taxes, the people that own a company pay corporate taxes. Shareholders pay corporate taxes. Real people, and really rich people pay these taxes. There are really two types of taxes: labor taxes and capital taxes. Labor taxes are income tax, payroll taxes, consumption taxes and healthcare premiums (which act as a tax on employees.). Capital taxes are taxed on increased capital, not labor, and these taxes fall to those who don't consume all of their income but save it, invest it and own companies with it. Capital taxes are progressively becoming tax free. While middle class income and minimum wage stay the same and payroll and consumption taxes go up, the poor pay a much larger percentage of taxes from their wealth. The rich side step taxes. Multinational companies, like Apple, Facebook and Google, motivated by a race to the bottom in international competition to have the lowest tax rates, pay much less taxes than domestic companies. This is because smaller countries offer them tax dodging company shells so that they can siphon off tax revenue that they otherwise wouldn't see. Big countries like the US can't provide even lower corporate taxes because we have an enormous amount of companies and would lose tax revenue across the board. And then companies make tax deductible donations to charitable organizations that they themselves own and control. In the 1980s, tax dodging became virtuous as the libertarian "tax is theft" ideals gained popularity. Tax dodging grew rapidly and enriched many, a trend that continues today. Globalization facilitates tax sheltering but only because there is very little international policing and cooperation. These tax havens DO NOT bring production to other countries. Capital taxes have never correlated with labor income. The labor class grew by 2% every year after the 1940s until the1980s and since then has only grown by 0.1%. Taxing capital less DOES NOT increase labor income. Trickle down economics has never been proven to be a viable economic strategy and likely causes working class stagnation. A progressive corporate and wealth tax is critical. Multinational company taxes need to be tracked in every country. The huge income taxes of the New Deal era were actually designed to tax only a few enormously wealthy people of the time, not middle or upper class people. The point of taxing the rich is NOT to create revenue but to STOP wealth concentration. The solutions: wealth tax, progressive corporate tax, inheritance taxes, estate taxes while we drop labor taxes. Highly recommend this read. It's very palatable even to someone like me who only has a cursory understanding of taxes.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    This is an outstanding book and a must read for anyone interested in inequality and options for what to do about it. The authors are economics professors at Berkeley and both work with Thomas Piketty. I had heard from various sources about this work and that it is the best work around right now linking economic theory, comprehensive analysis of available, international comparisons, and some actual wisdom in how to put it all together and say something. After working through it, I agree and highly This is an outstanding book and a must read for anyone interested in inequality and options for what to do about it. The authors are economics professors at Berkeley and both work with Thomas Piketty. I had heard from various sources about this work and that it is the best work around right now linking economic theory, comprehensive analysis of available, international comparisons, and some actual wisdom in how to put it all together and say something. After working through it, I agree and highly recommend the book. The book requires some fortitude to work through, but there is no way to avoid it in serious discussions of taxes and global finance. It is not highly demanding, however and the authors do an excellent job at communicating some arcane material. The book has insights and takeaways in every chapter. Among them include: 1) A nice review of the American tax context - who gets taxed on what and how the current situation of high inequality developed. 2) An explanation of tax dodging and tax evasion and what difference there is between them (less than you might think). This includes the industry that has arisen to advise clients on taxes. 3) A discussion of the international race to the bottom in national corporate tax rates. 4) A review of the evidence linking tax policies to national economic growth (or not). While there is much rhetoric on this, the evidence to back it up is thin. 5) A policy related discussion that emphasizes how there are no iron laws or immutable relations at play in tax policies. People made these policies and people can change them. Claims that changes in tax policy will bring about the end of the world are not well supported by evidence. Offshore earning could in principle be taxed, given a modicum of international cooperation. 6) A comparison between the US and different social welfare states to show how the US differed from Europe in terms of both taxes and the services provided for those taxes. The major differences are that on services like health care and education, while both are provided in the US in Europe, much more of the costs for health care and education are paid for privately in the US while they are paid for by the government in Europe. This makes them akin to privately paid taxes in the US. Including them in the US tax profile immediately makes it clear that the US tax burden is not as low as one would think, the rub being that middle and working class people in the US are much more burdened by such costs. I had not thought about it this way before. The authors provide lots of recommendations and are aware of the political contingencies surrounding tax reform. They also provide lots of online supporting materials, including a website with a tax simulator. This is a relatively short but pithy book that will get a reader to think about tax policies and how they link to broader issues of inequality and political economy.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kristoffer Berg

    The book contains many impressive new findings on the distribution of the tax burden and some very good tax reform suggestions. It is written more for the general public than tax experts, but it would still have benefitted from fewer comments on current politics and more discussion on the assumptions they make.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ron Boger

    Good economic analysis and history of taxation and its outcomes. Well researched and principled with good points. Can be boiled down to: - inequality is worthwhile to solve for policy makers - current taxes are flat/regressive in the US + Europe because labour is taxed more than capital. This can be fixed with taxing capital more, curbing tax evasion and anything against the economic substance doctrine (which is hard because there's an entire tax industry built around this), and a wealth tax. Heal Good economic analysis and history of taxation and its outcomes. Well researched and principled with good points. Can be boiled down to: - inequality is worthwhile to solve for policy makers - current taxes are flat/regressive in the US + Europe because labour is taxed more than capital. This can be fixed with taxing capital more, curbing tax evasion and anything against the economic substance doctrine (which is hard because there's an entire tax industry built around this), and a wealth tax. Healthcare in the US amount to a poll tax - competing tax rates are unsustainable for globalization and a 0% corporate tax in countries such as Bermuda serves as a negative externality for other nations. Multinationals don't actually shift their assets to these areas, just paper profits. - Trickle down economics has little supporting evidence in practice - Growth of national income and its share for most has not risen since the 1980s

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ali علی

    Excellent piece of work. The history, the present and the possible future of the American taxation system outlined brilliantly in accessible and readable prose. Of course their account presumes that the American capitalism is reformable.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nick Klagge

    In my review of Gabriel Zucman's "The Hidden Wealth of Nations," I commented that his treatment of corporate tax evasion through the use of offshore incorporation felt cursory, and I wished he would have given it a separate book. He hasn't done that exactly, but here, with co-author Emmanuel Saez, he treats the overall progressivity of the US tax system over time, very much including corporate taxation. Saez and Zucman are both proteges of Thomas Piketty, and I have to say I think they have impr In my review of Gabriel Zucman's "The Hidden Wealth of Nations," I commented that his treatment of corporate tax evasion through the use of offshore incorporation felt cursory, and I wished he would have given it a separate book. He hasn't done that exactly, but here, with co-author Emmanuel Saez, he treats the overall progressivity of the US tax system over time, very much including corporate taxation. Saez and Zucman are both proteges of Thomas Piketty, and I have to say I think they have improved upon their master's approach. The general style is similar, with a heavy focus on careful collection of statistics that are not easily gathered from any one source, and little to no econometrics or mathematical modeling. Yet in place of Piketty's 700+-page tome, Saez and Zucman are producing very punchy sub-200-page super-papers that communicate a clear message: here, it is that the US tax system as a whole (considering income, consumption, corporate, payroll, and other taxes) is essentially a "flat tax" for the vast majority of the population, and actually becomes regressive at the very top (the richest pay a lower proportion of their income than the rest of us). This is a change since the 1980s, before which taxation was more progressive. Saez and Zucman put forward some good, dare I say common-sense, arguments for why taxing labor and capital at different rates exacerbates inequality, why the extent of tax avoidance/evasion is a choice that the government makes, and why extra-Laffer top marginal tax rates (higher than that which would maximize tax revenue) may be socially optimal. Alongside this, they have interesting discussions of tax incidence (who does the corporate tax really fall upon?), and the evolving role of value added taxes (VAT), which they find to be less desirable in a time of high inequality than they were in the more equal time and place in which they were first implemented. Best of all, Saez and Zucman created a companion website (taxjusticenow.org) to allow the public to interact with their data and simulate the effects of different policy choices. This is a really creative move for a pair of academics, and even more than the conciseness of their book and clarity of their prose, opens up their findings to a much broader audience than those who'd be willing to read a Piketty-type tome. I also felt frustrated while reading this book, not anything to do with Saez and Zucman themselves, but because of the clash with the US political situation. Although S&Z's policy proposals aren't bulletproof, they are thought-through ideas that struck me as feasible. It's sad to me, then, that most presidential candidates aren't talking about these types of policies, and even if they were, they would have zero chance of getting past the Senate--barring some significant upheaval of the status quo.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jacobus Cilliers

    A must-read for anyone concerned about inequality in the USA (and for anyone who thinks inequality is not a concern, for that matter). Emmanuel Saez writes exceptionally well, and it is a surprisingly easy read for what should be a boring topic: taxation. The results from his detailed analysis and careful construction of data is shocking: the past three decades of growth have only benefited the top 1% of the US, and the income for the bottom half of the country was flat, or falling. AS a result A must-read for anyone concerned about inequality in the USA (and for anyone who thinks inequality is not a concern, for that matter). Emmanuel Saez writes exceptionally well, and it is a surprisingly easy read for what should be a boring topic: taxation. The results from his detailed analysis and careful construction of data is shocking: the past three decades of growth have only benefited the top 1% of the US, and the income for the bottom half of the country was flat, or falling. AS a result inequality has sky-rocketed, pre-tax. But the most shocking statistics is how regressive taxation has become in the US - a complete reversal from the post-WWII decades where the top marginal tax rate was once over 90%! For the first time ever the average tax rate for the top 0.1% is *lower* than the rest of the population. The culprits? Corporate taxation. The rich get their money from owning capital, but the effective tax rate on capital is has shrunk over tume, due to sophisticated tax evasion and decreasing corporate tax rates. Saez also makes a compelling case for how corporate profits can be taxed, even with creative accounting that allows global companies to book their profits in tax havens: Tax domestic companies a fixed fraction, irrespective of which country their taxes are reported in. Apple reported $10bn in profits in Ireland where the tax rate is 15%, but is domiciled in the US where tax rate is 30%? US government should take the remaining $1.5bn, so their effective tax rate remains 30%. He also convincingly argues that tax evasion is not inevitable, and that lowering corporate tax rates is not the only solution to capital flight: good legislation and strong enforcement can counter it. His arguments for taxing capital at the same rate as income are compelling, for the purpose of reducing inequality and increasing government revenue. But the one short-coming is that he is too dismissive about the other reasons for lower corporate tax rates: stimulating savings and investment. There is a large theoretical literature on this, which he doesn't do any justice in the book. Nonetheless, the fact that the period of the fastest growth in the US (1948 - 1980) also coincided with a period of high corporate tax rates, does lend credence to his claim that other policies have a larger influence on savings and investment.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Skip

    This book presents a detailed and meticulously researched analysis of current tax policy in the United States and other modern economies, then suggests how such policies can be changed to support progressive revenue goals. As such it is likely to be largely ignored, which is too bad since it's well-written and clearly represents a lot of thought and effort by the authors. There are a lot of numbers, quite a bit of economic analysis, and a good amount of public policy in this book. I'm enough of a This book presents a detailed and meticulously researched analysis of current tax policy in the United States and other modern economies, then suggests how such policies can be changed to support progressive revenue goals. As such it is likely to be largely ignored, which is too bad since it's well-written and clearly represents a lot of thought and effort by the authors. There are a lot of numbers, quite a bit of economic analysis, and a good amount of public policy in this book. I'm enough of a math, economics, and political science nerd to enjoy wading my way through it all. If you'd rather get just the gist, I recommend this Pitchfork Economics podcast episode, where one of the authors (Zucman) discusses the big ideas. On the other hand, if you're really into the numbers, you can go to the book's companion website at taxjusticenow.org to see all the data and play with your own policy ideas. As for the policy recommendations, it's pretty obvious from the book's title what they are. The tax systems in modern economies need to be more progressive, and need to be structured and enforced in ways that prevent tax dodging by the wealthy. Mainstream politics doesn't seriously address either component of that. On the right, we continue to see support for repeated tax cuts that benefit mostly the wealthy, despite decades of data showing how little this helps the economy and the non-wealthy majority of people. On the left, we see calls for increased rates or new kinds of wealth taxes, but very little of substance related to prevention of tax dodges and reforming of the current regressive tax policies. The reason I say I expect this work to be largely ignored is that emotion matters more than policy in modern politics. Politicians are more interested in making their constituents feel good (and thus more likely to vote) than in acting in those constituents' best interests. The kind of major changes proposed by the authors will attract all sorts of fear-mongering attacks that won't make anyone feel better. Still worth reading the book and thinking about the concepts, though.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Zoltan Pogatsa

    This book is probably better than Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century. At least it is not as longwinded. :) It is not simply a book about offshore. It's more about neoliberalism, inequalities, AND offshore. Kind of like a combination of the Piketty book and Zucman's Hidden Wealth of Nations. It starts off by discussing how FDR actually had a very high top rate of PIT for a reason: to stop people from growing too rich to buy up a democracy. Which is exactly what happened one Reagan/Thatcher etc. This book is probably better than Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century. At least it is not as longwinded. :) It is not simply a book about offshore. It's more about neoliberalism, inequalities, AND offshore. Kind of like a combination of the Piketty book and Zucman's Hidden Wealth of Nations. It starts off by discussing how FDR actually had a very high top rate of PIT for a reason: to stop people from growing too rich to buy up a democracy. Which is exactly what happened one Reagan/Thatcher etc. lowered tax rates (capital, wealth, PIT, etc.) and enables tax dodgeing. Then it discusses offshore. It actually offer very valuable practical advice on how countries COULD in fact reign in offshore even without internatioal cooperation. Key in this respect is the REMEDIAL TAX. Read more about it in the book. All in all, a must read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jason Furman

    (I will be doing a longer review in the future and will link to it here.)

  14. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    The authors are professors of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, and have the gift of writing in language that is understandable by the rest of us! Their work is a clarion call for the restoration of a viable tax structure that will adequately fund the needs of the people of this nation, allowing us to enjoy a more equal and flourishing society. They provide both a devastating account of how the progressive tax system set up during the New Deal — and which continued through t The authors are professors of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, and have the gift of writing in language that is understandable by the rest of us! Their work is a clarion call for the restoration of a viable tax structure that will adequately fund the needs of the people of this nation, allowing us to enjoy a more equal and flourishing society. They provide both a devastating account of how the progressive tax system set up during the New Deal — and which continued through the 1970s — was systematically and intentionally dismantled beginning with Ronald Regan and worsened under the Trump administration, leaving the wealthy to reap the overwhelming rewards of the economy while reducing most of the rest of us to a stagnant wage system and a deteriorating public sphere. They point out how the political class has worked hand-in-glove with the wealthiest Americans in this dismantling, all the while hiding under the guise of seeking “smaller government” and “ever-lower” taxes and using such misleading rhetoric as calling the estate tax the death tax. This could not have happened without millions of Americans allowing themselves to be duped by swallowing the rhetoric while failing to “follow the money.” Among the predictable results was the entrenchment of an ever-more ideologically rigid right-wing minority in the state and federal legislatures as they had learned how to leverage the tax system (among other things) to perpetuate their hold on power even as they willingly funneled ever-larger amounts of money to the obscenely wealthy while starving health care, education, and infrastructure. The answer, according to the authors, is to quickly move to: O Reconstitute a truly progressive tax structure O Levy a “wealth tax” of 60% on the greatest wealth (a wealth tax, not just an income tax) O Work with other nations to clamp down on off-shore tax shelters O Tax the corporate income of those businesses which seek to hide their assets by “locating” much of their principal operations in other countries O Restore the staffing and funding of the Internal Revenue Service in order to be able to pursue and prosecute tax evaders, something which has been made increasingly difficult by Congress’ multi-year starving that agency of much-needed resources They warn that because a truly democratic republic can not long survive without an adequate and just tax structure the matter for restoring progressive taxation is most urgent, indeed. In their Introduction, the authors write, “The country’s tax system — the most important institution of any democratic society — [has] failed. “We wrote this book with two objectives in mind: the first, to understand how exactly the United States got into this mess; the second, to help fix it.” (P. viii) During the last several decades, “…for the working class, wages stagnated, work conditions deteriorated, debts ballooned, and taxes rose. Since 1980 the tax system has enriched the winners in the market economy and impoverished those who realized few rewards from economic growth. “…Most of the changes in taxation are due not to a sudden popular appetite for exempting the wealthy, but to forces that have prevailed without input from voters…. The triumph of tax injustice is, above all, a denial of democracy.” (P. ix) “Our story…is the story of how the tax system established by the New Deal was undermined. At each step of its demise, we find the same pattern. It starts with an outburst of tax avoidance. It continues with policy makers letting this tax avoidance fester, paralyzed by supposedly invincible foes — tax shelters, globalization, tax havens, financial opacity. And it ends with governments slashing the tax rates of the wealthy under the pretense that taxing the richest among us has become impossible.” “Beyond America, our story is more fundamentally about the future of globalization and the future of democracy.” (P.x) While written in accessible English, the book is packed with relevant data and helpful tables. I strongly recommend this book to all Americans who wish to better understand how we have “gone off the rails” on tax policy and what measures we should be taking to get us quickly — and equitably — back to health!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Fraser Kinnear

    Often, I’ll read a political or policy non-fiction that seeks to either place blame on today’s problems on some group, or contextualize our problems with a history lesson, or both. Recent examples on the right are “The Age of Entitlement”, “The Decadent Society”, “Coming Apart”, and “How Do I Tax Thee?”. On the left, “Why We’re Polarized”, “Us Vs Them”, “The Once and Future Liberal”, and “Goliath”. In the center, “The Big Sort”, “American Carnage”, and “America’s Bitter Pill”. These authors will Often, I’ll read a political or policy non-fiction that seeks to either place blame on today’s problems on some group, or contextualize our problems with a history lesson, or both. Recent examples on the right are “The Age of Entitlement”, “The Decadent Society”, “Coming Apart”, and “How Do I Tax Thee?”. On the left, “Why We’re Polarized”, “Us Vs Them”, “The Once and Future Liberal”, and “Goliath”. In the center, “The Big Sort”, “American Carnage”, and “America’s Bitter Pill”. These authors will inevitably save their opinion on “what can be done” for a brief closing chapter. Far rarer is a book like “The Triumph of Injustice”, which almost takes the problem for granted, and instead focuses on corrective policy recommendations. Granted, this is a very left-leaning book. There are quite a few unfair characterizations, and not every idea is well thought out. One example of an unfair characterization: Saez and Zucman brand social security taxes as “deeply regressive”, which of course is true by definition. But aren’t the benefits they endow similarly progressive? I discuss on not-well-thought-out idea of theirs later. But characterizations are the stocking horse of polemicists, and fortunately there is far more substance in this book than mere ad hominem. My favorite problem and solution Saez and Zucman address is that of corporate tax avoidance of multi-nationals. Today, most multi-national corporations take advantage of a 100-year-old loophole in our tax law that states “any subsidiaries of a multi-national firm should be treated as separate entities”. The US can only tax multi-nationals for the profits earned domestically, expecting that these corporations are paying similar income taxes abroad. What has happened, of course, is some countries woo them with low- to zero-corporate income taxes. Then, corporations shift profit abroad by having the foreign subsidiary own intangible assets which they charge the parent for the use of. As an example, Apple Ireland can own the Apple logo and brand, then charge the US parent for the right to that brand, which the US parent can net against their US revenues to minimize their US profits. This exercise is known as “transfer pricing” and the work employs a quarter million pencil pushers in the US, mostly in Big Four accounting firms and law firms. Saez and Zucman fail to mention that repatriation of capital from a foreign sub to the domestic parent is a taxable event, a nuance that I suppose doesn’t favor their argument. Regardless, the net effect of this is to have cut US corporate tax revenue as a percentage of US National Income to a quarter of what it was in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Close to 60% of profits made by US multinationals abroad are booked in foreign countries (the authors don’t say over what period this was the case). Saez and Zucman’s solution is very smart, and relatively easy to implement. Countries should agree to harmonize to a “minimum tax threshold” of 25%. If a country is taxing a subsidiary below that threshold, the country where the parent is domiciled will charge additional income tax to catch up the difference. So, if Ireland is charging Apple a 12.5% corporate income tax, the US can charge an incremental 12.5% to Apple to catch up the difference. Ireland, not wanting to leave money on the table, will be incented to harmonize their rates. By Saez and Zucman’s reckoning, this idea doesn’t violate any international treaty, and countries are already collecting enough data from multi-nationals to make this of no additional expense to the companies. While a more balanced income tax is important, Saez and Zucman also advocate for more expansive wealth taxes. I hadn’t realized it, but there is a very common wealth tax today, which hits the middle class hardest: property taxes. My priors were that expanding the wealth tax base was exceedingly difficult, due to inescapable disagreement on the value of capital assets, like privately held businesses. One inherent problem in taxing privately held corporate wealth is assigning a valuation to those businesses. Valuation is exceptionally subjective, and if this would require an expansion of 409(A) valuations, then I’m not optimistic it would be particularly fair or effective. Saez and Zucman’s solution sounds smart, but would create a number of unfair consequences. Give private equity owners the option to sell shares of the business to the IRS as an optional means of paying the wealth tax. If they disagree with the IRS valuation, it would be because the IRS valued the business too high, and they should be happy to sell such an inflated stake in the business. The IRS would then turn around and sell those shares in a public market, which would then correctly price those shares for the next cycle, perhaps the following quarter. The problem with this solution is selling the shares to the wider market. Publicly traded corporations take on a sizeable cost to their operations by preparing audited financial statements. Would these now become a requirement for privately held businesses? Further, privately held businesses benefit strategically from not sharing their financial information with the broader market. This advantage disappears with this requirement. Could this solution still be put in place without the subsequent IRS sales to public market? Perhaps, but then the state would be accruing more and more ownership of the private sector. What happens when they own enough of private businesses for a controlling share? Saez and Zucman’s intention is to limit the consolidation of wealth in capital. But a capitalist critique is that such capital is putting other people and assets to work, driving the economy. Perhaps a sensible compromise is to tax “idle” capital or wealth? Any business that is sitting on unrestricted cash greater than some threshold percentage of the total net assets must pay a wealth tax on that cash? This would incentivize corporations to either return the cash to their shareholders in the form of dividends, or invest that capital back into operations. Of course, what has happened recently is that businesses, presumably not seeing any good enough investment opportunities, are instead just buying back shares. One interesting aside is that share buybacks were illegal in the US before 1982! That sounds like a smart policy and worthy of returning to. I suppose any positive policy recommendation is going to come with problems. As a reader, I give far more credit to authors attempting to pose a solution than those who just continue to point out problems. Even if I don’t think everything in this book would work or is a good idea, it’s still a relief to read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    A very interesting book for anyone who wants to know more about the rampant economic inequalities in the USA, and the runaway mechanisms behind it, in a context of an increasing global tax competition and tax evasion. — I decided to read this book after completing the « Capital in the XXIth century » by Thomas Pikkety. The latter got me enthusiastic by his thorough research on economic inequalities, blending historical narrative and economic theories, along with an impressive data collection over A very interesting book for anyone who wants to know more about the rampant economic inequalities in the USA, and the runaway mechanisms behind it, in a context of an increasing global tax competition and tax evasion. — I decided to read this book after completing the « Capital in the XXIth century » by Thomas Pikkety. The latter got me enthusiastic by his thorough research on economic inequalities, blending historical narrative and economic theories, along with an impressive data collection over a span of three centuries and dozen countries. However, Pikkety left me a bit disappointed with his final recommendation for a global tax on capital for the wealthiest, which seemed to me, a bit too idealistic and difficult to implement in our societies. On the contrary, the work and recommendations from the two economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Guzman, are more comprehensive, filled with common sense, practical and could be implemented more easily through a democratic process. It’s more about fixing the machine, than building a brand new one. I won’t go into details here, but a good half of the book is actually dedicated to explaining how to fix the current unfair tax system and the dynamics behind it. Moreover, despite focusing mostly on the case of the US (both are professors at the university of California, Berkeley), they offer something closer to a comprehensive global solution to the issue, which is similar in many other countries. Especially in a global context of interconnected economies, where unfair domestic tax environment and global tax evasion, often go hand in hand. Along with the pressing environmental challenge, achieving a more harmonious and fairer tax system will be of a crucial importance to the sustainability and acceptance by the people of a more responsible and fairer version of globalization. I must say that is a book which left me more hopeful after turning its last page than what I was before opening it... Which is far from usual for a book dealing with inequalities. I happily invite people to read and debate about this book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Richard Smyth

    Well researched & well written explanation of how the rich pay proportionally much less tax than low earners Thought provoking insights as to how the tax burden has shifted over the last 50 years from high net worth high earning individuals to the lower paid. I5 also explains how multinationals have used accounting and legal tricks to move profits to low tax jurisdictions. The real issue is that the wealthy control the power to change this but never will because they have so much to lose.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jökull Auðunsson

    Brilliant data driven investigation of inequality Focused investigation using national income to see just how surprisingly regressive the US tax code is. Stark reminder that tax justice is a decision, and injustice is in no way unavoidable in a globalized world.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Richard Marney

    The authors have made significant contributions to our understanding of the causes and effects of income and wealth inequality. This book is a continuation of that important work. The role of government tax policy since Reagan has transformed America. The county of my youth (1st grade in the last year of the Eisenhower Administration) had high marginal tax rates for high incomes, strong growth, and limited tax game-playing. Whilst there were serious societal problems (most notably, deplorable ra The authors have made significant contributions to our understanding of the causes and effects of income and wealth inequality. This book is a continuation of that important work. The role of government tax policy since Reagan has transformed America. The county of my youth (1st grade in the last year of the Eisenhower Administration) had high marginal tax rates for high incomes, strong growth, and limited tax game-playing. Whilst there were serious societal problems (most notably, deplorable racial prejudices), limited income and wealth inequality contributed to a broader sense of community and comity lacking in today’s economic and political environment. Causes? The authors present a compelling explanation: changes in tax policy and the explosion of tax game playing driving fundamental transformation in the relative income shares of capital v. labor, and income/wealth distribution, which have resulted in America becoming trapped in an accelerating spiral of intensifying economic inequality and political polarization. The later chapters discuss how to reverse the rot. Good ideas. Their practicality (unless Bernie wins and the Democrats control Congress) questionable, sadly. A worthwhile read. Just don’t get too depressed by the numbers!!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Wej

    Very well documented description of how the current tax system in the US in exacerbating inequality and how it can be fixed. The authors describe the history of taxing income and wealth. They show that since the 80s the tax system is favouring those at the top of the income and wealth distribution. Currently, the US tax system is flat and becomes regressive at the very top. This is because the divindends, interest, and other sources of wealth that the rich rely on are effectively taxed at a lowe Very well documented description of how the current tax system in the US in exacerbating inequality and how it can be fixed. The authors describe the history of taxing income and wealth. They show that since the 80s the tax system is favouring those at the top of the income and wealth distribution. Currently, the US tax system is flat and becomes regressive at the very top. This is because the divindends, interest, and other sources of wealth that the rich rely on are effectively taxed at a lower rate than the income tax. Tax avoidance (mostly legal) and evasion (mostly illegal) is enabled by enormous industry which became highly influential in recent years. Large companies increasing pay very little taxes as they can easily shift profits to jurisdictions with lower tax levels. Not fixing the existing system risks disenchanting large sections of society and lowering trust in democratic institutions. The book describes mostly the US but it also gives counterexamples from other places, mostly France. Saez and Zucman propose the national income tax which would treat all income in the same way, no matter whether is arises from labour or capital. This tax could be implemented globally or by individual countries as loopholes for avoidance could easily be closed if there was enough political will to do so. The authors describe existing registers of wealth which enable implementing this kind of taxation which would be highly progressive.

  21. 5 out of 5

    James

    Despite the sensationalist title, this is actually a pretty serious book, though Saez and Zucman have strong left-of-center views. The first chapter is the most important, as it presents new data analysis on the share of taxes paid by all income quantiles since 1913. The stark news here is that the very very top, the 0.01 percent, have a lower tax bill than anybody else, largely due to the Trump cuts of the corporate income tax. The rest of the book summarizes earlier research by them and others Despite the sensationalist title, this is actually a pretty serious book, though Saez and Zucman have strong left-of-center views. The first chapter is the most important, as it presents new data analysis on the share of taxes paid by all income quantiles since 1913. The stark news here is that the very very top, the 0.01 percent, have a lower tax bill than anybody else, largely due to the Trump cuts of the corporate income tax. The rest of the book summarizes earlier research by them and others on tax evasion and related issues, and proposes fixes (including a wealth tax). Very well written.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Shashank Bhargava

    Pretty interesting but a little too in the weeds for someone who doesn't know a ton about tax policy. Long story short: American tax policy is currently super regressive, it hasn't always been though, so there's proof that it doesn't need to be. Countries should use influence to make sure they can't just get bullied by corporations. Tax the fuck out of the rich, and do it punitively. Eat the rich. Pretty interesting but a little too in the weeds for someone who doesn't know a ton about tax policy. Long story short: American tax policy is currently super regressive, it hasn't always been though, so there's proof that it doesn't need to be. Countries should use influence to make sure they can't just get bullied by corporations. Tax the fuck out of the rich, and do it punitively. Eat the rich.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Graeme Newell

    This book really helped me to better understand the history and opportunities of tax policy. Ronald Reagan’s 1980 tax revolt was intended to free Americans from burdensome taxation. Those policies dramatically reduced taxes, but unfortunately, just for one group of Americans - the rich. The author tells a fascinating story of how the most anticipated tax reform movement in recent history transferred a big tax burden on to middle and lower class Americans. Reagan’s vilification of all forms of tax This book really helped me to better understand the history and opportunities of tax policy. Ronald Reagan’s 1980 tax revolt was intended to free Americans from burdensome taxation. Those policies dramatically reduced taxes, but unfortunately, just for one group of Americans - the rich. The author tells a fascinating story of how the most anticipated tax reform movement in recent history transferred a big tax burden on to middle and lower class Americans. Reagan’s vilification of all forms of taxation transformed tax avoidance into an patriotic act. Paying taxes was no longer an uncomfortable but necessary act of civic duty; it was now a great evil oppressing the nation. It was every American’s duty to fight any form of taxation. This new narrative marked the beginning of an explosion of tax cheating and tax avoidance. Prior to this time, most of the rich begrudgingly paid the high tax rates demanded of them. It was considered every American’s obligation. But Reagan’s tax revolution marked the birth of an accounting metamorphosis and the take-no-prisoners tax avoidance insurrection. Offshore tax sheltering, corporate shell companies and other forms of gymnastic accounting soared to prominence. Paying taxes was for suckers. The first part of Saez’s book chronicles this perfidious transformation. He reveals the ingenious playbook used by accounting rockstars, CFOs and lobbyist to quietly morph America’s tax policy, moving the burden on to the less financially sophisticated - middle and working class people. He chronicles the story of this “greed is good” devolution and how it has shaped the taxation policies we live with today. In the 19th century the super rich (Getty, Carnegie, etc) were seen as robber barons. Today they’re rock stars. Saez does a great job of explaining the whack-a-mole tax avoidance strategies of corporate offshoring and the deviously clever ways gigantic profits are safely harbored in a few poor countries desperate for economic relief. The second part of the book was even more interesting. Saez provides a wonderfully approachable explanation on who foots the bill on different forms of taxation. He lays out who pays what on capital gains, labor taxes, flat taxes and all the myriad forms of taxation that have been tried throughout the ages and around the world. Finally, he lays out a pretty solid plan of action for tax reform. It actually seems like something that might work. This book gave me some real hope that intractable problems like tax reform might be solvable. No question, it will take tremendous political will to achieve but the good news is there appears to be a way forward.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    Chilling and infuriating. The authors do a great job of explaining tax justice in easy, readable prose.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Joana Canada

    Nice introduction to the history and evolution of America’s tax system, and to the inequalities that come from it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Kilpatrick

    Can't recommend this book enough. Rather than being a Daily Kos-style Hallmark Card Liberal style screed, as one might expect, the authors (who clearly know their subject matter well), lay out a thoughtful, powerful and convincing case using real statistics and historical as well as contemporary real-world examples. Can't recommend this book enough. Rather than being a Daily Kos-style Hallmark Card Liberal style screed, as one might expect, the authors (who clearly know their subject matter well), lay out a thoughtful, powerful and convincing case using real statistics and historical as well as contemporary real-world examples.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Eric Bottorff

    Nothing especially revelatory here if you’re well-versed in these issues. But if you’re not, this a solid introduction.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Eric Means

    Absolutely worth reading to understand a) how inequality got to the massively messed up place we're in now, b) how it wasn't always this way, and c) how we can absolutely fix the problem, given enough political will. Absolutely worth reading to understand a) how inequality got to the massively messed up place we're in now, b) how it wasn't always this way, and c) how we can absolutely fix the problem, given enough political will.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Matich

    Not as academic or expansive as Thomas Piketty’s “Capital” - yet it serves as an actionable flashpoint and handbook for progressive candidates such as Warren and Sanders. The writers were even mentioned with disdain in the grotesque Open letter penned by financier Leon Cooperman to Warren; in a recent avalanche of ego bruised billionaire snowflakes. If this book is pissing off the 1%, they are doing something right!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ju187

    An inspiring reading. People need to wake up from the right wing economic brain wash

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