That wealth largely remains in the hands of the already wealthy is nothing new. Income inequality in the US has only increased since the 1980s, far exceeding that of the UK and other G7 nations; upper-income families have increased their share of the country’s aggregate income in that same timeframe while middle-income households have lost theirs in proportion; and three of the richest men own as much as the poorest 50% of us.
But something about the new report by the non-profit investigative journalism organization ProPublica, which exposes just how little the 25 wealthiest people in the US – including the Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, the Berkshire Hathaway chairman, Warren Buffett, and the Tesla CEO, Elon Musk – are paying in taxes while simultaneously building their already unfathomable personal wealth, is breathtaking.
Perhaps it’s the fact that we’re actually seeing hard numbers attached to names and faces, rather than some “shadowy wealthy elite not paying taxes” in the abstract. Either way, it feels shocking anew.
I read through the report to tease out the most egregious details about what we’ve learned from the 25 wealthiest Americans:
Jeff Bezos, whose net worth is currently estimated at over $190bn, didn’t pay any federal income taxes in 2007. The stock value for his company, Amazon, more than doubled that same year.
Bezos also didn’t pay federal income taxes in 2011.
That same year, he apparently claimed a $4,000 tax credit for his kids.
Warren Buffet, meanwhile, paid only 0.1% for every $100 he added to his wealth between 2014 and 2018 – while being very vocal in support of raising taxes on wealthy Americans such as himself.
George Soros, the billionaire investor, has also been an outspoken supporter of increasing the amount that wealthy Americans like himself are taxed, yet ProPublica’s report shows that he did not pay any federal income tax for three years in a row.
When reached for comment, a representative for Soros explained that the reason why he didn’t pay was because he had lost money on investments. The rep then doubled down on Soros’s support for “higher taxes for wealthy Americans”, which rings somewhat hollow given the facts at hand.
Michael Bloomberg, the businessman and former mayor of New York City, also did not pay federal income taxes in a recent tax year. In 2018, Elon Musk, the second-richest person in the world, also paid no federal income taxes.
Bloomberg additionally only paid $70.7m on his 2018 net income of $1.9bn after claiming numerous deductions.
Zoom out a bit more, and you’ll find that these 25 individuals earned a combined $1.1tn in income in 2018 – the same amount as 14.3 million “ordinary Americans” put together, ProPublica observes. The organization also notes that the first group, the wealthy 25, paid $1.9bn in federal income tax that year. The latter group, the 14.3 million ordinary wage earners, paid $143bn.
Since ProPublica’s report, Senator Elizabeth Warren has resumed calls for instituting policy that would tax rich Americans’ wealth rather than just their annual earned income.