The Trickle-Down Shakedown

When it comes to paying taxes, David Cay Johnston has an ugly truth for you: You’re getting screwed.

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


Let’s be frank. You probably don’t like paying attention to your taxes.
Whether by computer, pencil, or proxy, the details are frequently boring, the process painful,
and the results depressing. It’s easy to extrapolate that queasiness and cringe each time you see
a story about tax loopholes, tax shelters, or tax evasion. Which is understandable—maybe
inevitable—but unfortunate. Because as David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning
reporter for the New York Times, details in his new book, Perfectly Legal, you’re getting screwed.

Over the past 20 years or so—starting with the Reagan tax cuts—there
has been a historic and little-remarked shift in the tax burden. Federal taxes still redistribute
income, only now it’s increasingly from the middle class to the extremely wealthy. For instance,
Social Security taxes were increased in the early 1980s to pay for what was billed as a coming solvency
crisis. Instead, they’ve financed a tax cut largely for the rich. Meanwhile, businesses have devised
endless schemes to avoid paying their fair share—from 1983 to 1999 corporate profits stocked
away in tax havens increased by 735 percent.

Such tax avoidance doesn’t happen in a vacuum. As Johnston details,
both Republicans and Democrats have encouraged it by, among other things, chronically underfunding
the IRS. Between 1988 and 2002, the number of auditors dropped by 30 percent. Nowadays, just 4 percent
of midsize companies face audits in a given year. The result is the second-lowest percentage
of corporate taxes paid since the Great Depression. Those lost revenues eventually have to be made
up somewhere—and increasingly it’s coming from working-class Americans. A whole new reason
to find taxes depressing.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate