IRS admits it audits poor people because auditing rich people is too expensive

Nine years ago, Republican lawmakers gutted the IRS's budget, but didn't relax its requirement to conduct random audits: in response, the IRS has shifted its focus from auditing rich people (who can afford fancy accountants to use dirty tricks to avoid paying taxes) to auditing poor people (who can't afford professional help and might make minor mistakes filling in the highly technical and complex tax forms), until today, an IRS audit is just as likely to target low-income earner whose meager pay entitles them to a tax credit is as it is to target a filer from the top one percent of US earners. Read the rest

Stock buybacks: how Wall Street has created "profits without prosperity"

For years, the Harvard Business School fellow William Lazonick has been writing about the rise of the "shareholder value" doctrine in capital markets, and how that has driven financial engineering tactics like stock buybacks, which allow shareholders (including top executives) to prosper at the expense of the companies they have invested in, siphoning value out of profitable businesses until they collapse. Read the rest

The median household income of each state in the USA

New US Census Bureau data shows that while the median household income for the United States (and 14 states within the USA) increased a bit from 2017 to 2018, "income inequality was significantly higher during the same period for the nation and nine states.... Maryland ($83,242) was among the states with the highest median household income and West Virginia ($44,097) was among the lowest."

More data and an interactive version of the map: "2018 Median Household Income in the United States" (Census.gov)

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Dynasties: in-depth reporting on the wealthy, influential political and corporate families that not-so-secretly rule Canada

The latest podcast from the Canadaland network (previously) is Dynasties, wherein host Arshy Mann delves into the scandals, backroom deals, and secret string-pulling employed by the "great families" of Canada, where wealth and political power have been gathered into just a few hands, all clinging tight to that power. Read the rest

Uber general counsel threatens California: pass a law that makes drivers into employees and we'll spend $60m on a ballot initiative to overturn it

AB5 is about to pass the California legislature: it forces companies like Lyft and Uber to comply with the longstanding Dynamex decision and treat their employees as employees. Read the rest

Thomas Piketty's new book uses data to trace how inequality changes ideology

French economist Thomas Piketty changed the world in 2014 with his magisterial Capital in the Twenty-First Century, a book that reported out an incredibly ambitious project to map out three centuries' worth of capital flows, and from that, to derive an empirical answer about whether markets are a machine for finding smart people and allocating capital to them so that they can invent things that make us all better off ("meritocracy"), or whether they simply make the people who happened to get rich (possibly by inventing something, more often by inheriting wealth or by being a sociopathic looter) even richer (spoiler: rg, which means that markets' long-run function is to increase inequality by allocating ever-larger pools of capital to rich people who don't do much that's socially beneficial with it). Read the rest

America's life-expectancy income-gap widens precipitously

For years, researchers have tracked the discrepancy in average life-expectancy predicted by income equality, and, as with the wealth gap itself, this life-expectancy gap just keeps getting wider. Read the rest

NYT calls for an end to legacy college admissions

In the wake of the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, a new debate opened up, about the mundane, everyday ways that wealthy people buy their way into elite institutions: from hiring, poorer, smarter kids to write their kids' essays, to surrendering custody of your kids in order to misappropriate low-income tuition grants, to simply "donating" shit-tons of money to the school. Read the rest

Robert Bork is the architect of the inequality crisis

If you know the name Robert Bork, it's probably in the context of his failure to secure Senate confirmation when Ronald Regan put him up for the Supreme Court (his sins from his days in the Nixon administration caught up to him). Read the rest

Having burnished their reputations with extravagant promises, the billionaires who pledged €600m. to rebuild Notre Dame are missing in action

Philanthropy is theoretically an expression of generosity and fellow-feeling, but in an increasingly unequal world, charitable giving is a form of reputation laundering for super-rich oligarchs who build their massive fortunes on savage programs of exploitation and immiseration. The idea is that you can paper over the fact that deliberately starting the opioid crisis made you richer than the Rockefellers by having your name plastered all over the world's leading art galleries and museums. Read the rest

After the Oliver Twist poorhouse became luxury housing with a segregated playground, London bans segregated play-areas

The world is full of corrupt oligarchs looking to smuggle their money out of their countries and put it somewhere where the rule of law that they have helped to dismantle at home still reigns; a favourite safe asset class is luxury housing in major cities, which is viewed as easy to sell on short notice due to the large supply of other money-laundering oligarchs. Read the rest

Podcast: Occupy Gotham

In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my essay Occupy Gotham, published in Detective Comics: 80 Years of Batman, commemorating the 1000th issue of Batman comics. It's an essay about the serious hard problem of trusting billionaires to solve your problems, given the likelihood that billionaires are the cause of your problems.

A thousand issues have gone by, nearly 80 years have passed, and Batman still hasn't cleaned up Gotham. If the formal definition of insanity it trying the same thing and expecting a different outcome, then Bruce Wayne belongs in a group therapy session in Arkham Asylum. Seriously, get that guy some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy before he gets into some *serious* trouble.

As Upton Sinclair wrote in his limited run of *Batman: Class War*[1], "It's impossible to get a man to understand something when his paycheck depends on his not understanding it."

Gotham is a city riven by inequality. In 1939, that prospect had a very different valence than it has in 2018. Back in 1939, the wealth of the world's elites had been seriously eroded, first by the Great War, then by the Great Crash and the interwar Great Depression, and what was left of those vast fortunes was being incinerated on the bonfire of WWII. Billionaire plutocrats were a curious relic of a nostalgic time before the intrinsic instability of extreme wealth inequality plunged the world into conflict.

MP3

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Rebecca Solnit on Jeffrey Epstein: "In patriarchy, no one can hear you scream"

In a characteristically brilliant essay, historian, activist and writer Rebecca Solnit connects the dots between the sexual abuses of Jeffrey Epstein, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Brett Kavanaugh, Harvey Weinstein, and the unnamed 16-year-old boy whose admitted rape was excused because the judge said that This young man comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school where he was doing extremely well: in each case, there was an elaborate scheme to silence and discredit the survivors of sexual violence, abetted by networks of (mostly) men who treat the disclosure of sexual assaults as a worse offense than committing the assaults themselves. Read the rest

Understanding "transfer pricing": how corporations dodge taxes through financial colonialism

Every day, the world's poorest countries lose $3b in tax revenues as multinationals sluice their profits through their national boundaries in order to avoid taxes in rich countries, and then sluice the money out again, purged of tax obligations thanks to their exploitation of tax loopholes in poor nations. Read the rest

How Memphis's Methodist University Hospital, a "nonprofit," sued the shit out of its Black, poor patients while raking in millions and paying execs more than a million each

Methodist University Hospital in Memphis is a nonprofit: it pays virtually no local, state or federal tax; but unlike other Methodist hospitals, Methodist University Hospital is relentless in pursuing medical debts from indigent patients. The hospital owns its own collection agency, and is one of the leading litigants in Tennessee's debt courts. Read the rest

America's super-rich write to Democratic presidential hopefuls, demanding a wealth tax

18 of the richest people in America have sent a letter to all the candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, demanding that their election platform include a annual wealth tax on the largest American fortunes, something advocated by economist Thomas Piketty in his blockbuster book Capital in the 21st Century and subsequently integrated into Elizabeth Warren's campaign platform (with Piketty's endorsement). Read the rest

Majority of American millionaires support a wealth tax on American millionaires

When Elizabeth Warren proposed a Thomas Piketty-style wealth tax (2% annually on family fortunes over $50m, 1% more on fortunes over $1b), she ballparked the returns at $1.9-2.75t over the first ten years. Read the rest

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