I briefly worked for a businessman whom after the phrase “richer than God” was probably coined. I still remember the first business trip I took with him abroad—we had just entered the Admiral Lounge in Dallas for our layover. After a glass of wine was practically shoved into my hand and we’d assembled plates of food from the buffet, we took a seat in reclining, cushy leather chairs by the window which overlooked the planes as they took off and landed. This—the food, the alcohol, the quiet place to sit before your flight—was all free for first-class flyers.
I felt like I had entered a world I’d never known existed. I mean, there were showers for travelers who felt grimy from a day in the sky. There was a sushi chef. What a far cry from my usual airport experience of finding the closest Starbucks and struggling to find a free seat in a gate remotely close to where I’d be boarding.
I noticed then my boss was wearing a black t-shirt that had three big commas printed on it, one after the other.
“What does that mean?” I asked him, slowly sipping my wine.
“What do you think it means?” He replied, smirking. “What has three commas?”
It took me a minute, but then I got it.
A billion. As in, dollars.
Now, I don’t know if my boss was actually a billionaire, but I will say that he certainly lived the life of one. I’ve since written off that part of my job history as a very cool experience at a time when I needed just that, but I can’t help but think about it now amid Biden’s proposed tax changes. The more I delve into what he’s proposing, the more I wonder how these wealthy individuals have gotten away without paying taxes for so long—and how it can even be excusable in the eyes of the country.
It’s not about loopholes—it’s about the fundamentally different treatment for wealthy people that is baked into the core of the United States tax code.
Essentially, the U.S. has two longstanding tax systems: one for people who work for a living, and another for the wealthy.
According to a new report from ProPublica, many of America’s richest billionaires have paid little to no taxes on hundreds of billions of dollars in added wealth over the past decade. Those who work for a living pay taxes at rates that vary, with some money withheld from paychecks every week. They file a tax return each year and pay the IRS more or get a refund check.
The rich, however, use financial derivatives or loans to get money to live on, so they don’t have any “taxable income.” The real problem comes into play when you consider that the U.S. only taxes capital gains on the sale of an asset. Therefore, wealthy individuals can accumulate fortunes completely untaxed. How will Biden’s tax plan ensure that these people are paying the taxes they really ought to be? Right now, it doesn’t seem like it will—but with so much attention on increasing tax rates on those who make over a certain amount per year, it’s clear that action on this issue will only continue to grow.
I’m not going to lie, I loved the high life—flying first class, staying at five-star resorts, eating course after course of delicately prepared meat and seafood and vegetables I’d never heard of. Sipping a scotch that was older than I was. And I’m fine with anyone who lives that life, but not at the expense of foregoing their taxes just because they can. It leads me to ask a question that continuously reverberates in my brain: Why do the people who need it the least get everything for free?
Brittany Roe is a content writer for an accounting firm and contributor to AMP.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Op-Eds are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Arkansas Money & Politics or AY About You Media Group.
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