I originally posted on this topic in 2012, during the time that presidential wannabe Willard Romney decided we the voters didn’t deserve to see his full tax returns. It was a big deal that he hadn’t made public his FBAR–forms on profits or losses from foreign holdings. That’s all the money from the Cayman Islands and Switzerland and other overseas havens where Romney had hidden his money. Ironically, we found out after the election that then-Senate Minority leader Harry Reid was right–Romney had in fact figured out how to not pay income taxes for nearly a decade. It was a mechanism called a CRUT, and you can search my older articles for details.
But everybody has mostly forgotten what else we learned about Romney and the tax system back in 2012. I wanted to use this opportunity to talk about the 1% of the 1%. Those of you who’ve seen my play know that I inveigh against state lotteries. The chances of winning are hopeless, the money isn’t going to education, and most purchasers are desperate, low income people who have no legitimate way out of an economic dead end. And as bad as the odds of winning are, the odds of winners HOLDING ONTO THE MONEY are almost as dismal. Lou Eisenberg and Curtis Sharp were the first NY Lotto millionaires back in the 1970’s, and both lost it all. They are hardly the only such people. And yet, the state of New York takes a chunk of my taxes to retain high-powered media talent to entice people into dropping coin on a rigged game. If a private entity did that, they’d be shut down in short order.
I‘d also add that sudden fortune can’t fix everything. Last Christmas season I posted the unfortunate story of Donald Savastano, an upstate NYer whose million dollar ‘Merry Millions’ lottery win didn’t save him from the massive cancers metastasizing in his body even as he posed for publicity pictures to promote the lottery. He’d put off healthcare and insurance that he couldn’t afford even under the ACA, and when he finally got enough money for a doctor’s visit he got the worst possible diagnosis. He was dead in 23 days.
But the real problem with big winnings in the lottery is that most people who play them (especially the poorest) are quite clueless about what constitutes being rich in this country. We can forget mention of The Donald’s ostensible billions here. He has refused to release his taxes in any organized fashion, and the forms ‘leaked’ to us indicate he might not be a billionaire, but forget that uncomfortable information. You aren’t going to be joining Mar a Lago by winning five million or even ten million in the NY lottery. First, you won’t see five mil. In New York State, that will be divided into 26 annual payments–You’ll be seeing about 192K a year before taxes (unless you take a lump sum, which means half of the money is gone IMMEDIATELY). There’s compelling evidence that post-winnings, you may be worth more than Trump once you count all his debts, but that’s for another blog. In any case, a mere five million dollars in the bank won’t impress The Donald. A friend who brushes shoulders with the plutocrats just shared that the expression for those with a hundred million in the bank is ‘they’ve made their hundie’. You won’t be a ‘hundie’. You’re not worth the time of the Mar a Lago concierge.
One interesting by-product of this is the sniping I’ve seen lately about the pay for Congresscreatures and the like. There seem to be a number of memes that are false, (Congresscreatures and senators don’t get lifetime pay and pensions commensurate with their salary), but even the ones that get the numbers right ($174K per annum, with more for those who are committee chairmen or in other leadership roles) are full of anger. And yes, $174K plus perks looks like a lot of money if you work the afternoon shift for Papa John’s. But when JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon went to DC to get grilled about massive trading losses at his bank, he was being excoriated by congresscreatures and Senators who make less than 1% what he made that year. Do people like Dimon even have to talk to anyone making what a mere Congressman makes in the course of a business day? There was hue and cry over Trump saying he was not taking his 400K presidential salary. But lost in all of the discussion was the fact that 400K was about what he got for weekly salary for doing THE APPRENTICE. The office of the highest paid politician in the government pays less per year than a TV producer makes in a week*.
This brings me back to the Lotto commercials, which imply huge winnings and unlimited horizons. The Lotto Mega Millions blurb a few years back shows a guy with his own airline. The two things it doesn’t show: 1), purchasing the airplane plus the fuel plus the airport parking place for it would outweigh whatever winnings one could get even from Mega millions; 2) more importantly, as should be obvious to those paying attention, the wealthy don’t pay for their own jets (even the small private ones). Trump and family certainly doesn’t have to wait with steerage and take off his shoes and get ‘wanded’ when he wants to fly somewhere, and that was true before the Inauguration. News flash–he also doesn’t have to pay his own way anywhere–his jets are a tax write-off, and when Obama tried to end the corporate jet write-off, the plutocrats screamed bloody murder and it didn’t proceed. That’s the thing about the hyper wealthy—they don’t pay for anything. Even if you’re not Trump and don’t have a jet with your name on it awaiting your travel needs, if you’re part of the ‘hundie’ class, you probably have a corporate accountant or a non-profit connection that owes you a favor. You fly for free. The Lotto guy with his measly five mill can’t. He’s not in the club.
Since the Postwar period, there’s never been a time when the plutocrat class pays less in taxes. During the Run-up to the 2012 election, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes was on the panel on The Last Word remarking on the foreign holdings of Romney and many of the other 1% of the 1%. For Hayes (and perhaps the rest of us) this is an existential question (and I’m paraphrasing): “We no longer have the ability in this country to really tax people at the top… Can you actually tax the people at the top? If you can’t, that is Greece. Societies in decline… cannot tax the people at the top“. Larger point: the problem of moving wealth out of reach of the tax man is endemic in countries like Argentina, where the elites always hide a chunk of their wealth somewhere else so that they can hie to the helicopters should the peasantry get angry enough to tip over the system. Is the US turning into a banana republic? And things are worse now than they were in 2012 thanks to The Donald’s massive Tax cut for the one percent of the one percent.
And in 2018, we now have many more archetypal, villainous billionaires than we’ve had since the Gilded age and ONE OF THEM IS PRESIDENT. I’d hoped that the disgusting behavior of the billionaires would drive the American people to some kind of class resentment of Trump and the plutocrat class. But The Donald has somehow become the ‘Man on Horseback‘ that the American white evangelical bloc has been praying for. Canadian Author Ronald Wright’s sadly cynical quote has never been more correct–the poorest of the evangelicals still see themselves “not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” The prosperity gospel has made it un-Christian to call out the people Jesus said couldn’t get into heaven. And Trump is a lowlife piker next to the avatar of Greed, Jeff Bezos of Amazon. He heads what may soon be the first TRILLION DOLLAR COMPANY in world history, and every one of his employees is a millionaire. Just kidding, his employees are on public assistance. His Trillion-dollar company doesn’t pay taxes either, helped along by the many provisions in the tax code that protect him and other uberwealthy folks. Bezos is following the billionaire script laid out by the billionaire Walton family, owners of Walmart. “A single Walmart Supercenter cost taxpayers between $904,542 and $1.75 million per year, or between $3,015 and $5,815 on average for each of 300 workers.” In other words, if you pay taxes, you’re subsidizing Amazon AND Walmart. And Bezos didn’t even say Thank you.
When Romney was the plutocrat in the cross-hairs during 2012, it was estimated that his investments were providing him with something like $20 Million a year. The truly desperate Lotto participants are busy with their Lotto Scratch-off games, hoping for Robin Leach’s Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams . They don’t know how far they’d still be from hobnobbing with Trump or Bezos or Romney even if they got lucky. One just won a thousand dollars a week for life. What he’d get per year is a bit less than Mitt Romney wakes up to EVERY DAY. That was considered somewhat obscene back in 2012, but it’s even crazier now. Bezos made $40 Billion dollars last year (not including his ‘official’ Amazon salary of $81K) thanks to the Amazon speculation in the stock market. That is a bit less than $800 million a week, or $20 million dollars an hour. Twenty million is what Romney got in a year back in 2012. Now he’s merely running for a governorship in Utah and Nobody cares about his money. He’s another ‘hundie’ that can be ignored at the restaurants that charge $100 for a glass of Perrier.
One last thought. I didn’t think Guy McPherson would figure into this, but it is a pertinent meme. What does money matter when we’re torching the planet?
*A separate discussion, but the most remunerated government workers in the US are the coaches of state college football and basketball teams. Just saying.