“The secret IRS files” is a trove of never-seen-before tax records showing how the 0.01%, billionaires like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, and Mark Zuckerberg, actually get away with paying nearly no taxes. Just obtained from the US tax authorities by ProPublica, a non-profit newsroom that investigates the abuses of power, it is the first result of an ongoing investigation with assuredly more revelations to come. For the first time, we have indisputable evidence that the ultra-rich do not pay taxes that could be remotely considered as commensurate with their wealth or fair to the rest of the taxpayers.
This is all the more shocking if you confront the ProPublica finding with a report from Oxfam, published in September last year, that showed how the lifestyle of the rich destroys the environment: The One Percent – just 63 million people out of the planet’s total 7.9 billion – are responsible for 15% of the carbon emissions.
By the end of last year, as is the custom when a decade ends, I started thinking about the future. Obsessively. Climate change, environmental degradation, the collapse of democracy – if you project those facts into the future, you have to wonder: are we are living at the end of times? But there is an odd fact right under our nose, a small fact that sounds more like a piece of gossip than real news: The battle of billionaires.
Yet this is no fluffy gossip, it’s very real! We tend to discount the political role of billionaires. We shouldn’t. Consider that not all billionaires are bad news. Some fight for social justice and the preservation of the environment. A battle between the two kinds of billionaires is shaping up and could last well into the coming decade. I just wrote about this in an article for Impakter, here’s the opening:
The 2010s are coming to a close. Reviewing the decade, what can we say about the future? A tech person will look at technological progress (stunning). A sociologist will look at cultural diversity (explosive). My take (disclosure: I’m an economist) is that this decade, with growing income inequality, saw an unprecedented number of billionaires taking center stage. “Good” billionaires like Bill Gates concerned about climate change and equity, “bad” ones like Betty De Vos, defunding and dismantling America’s public education system.
This fact alone, the rise of the billionaires, will shape our future, for better (a peaceful, balanced world) or for worse (climate Armageddon).
Much depends on what kind of billionaire takes power. Some of them can be alarmingly aggressive, for example, Trump ordering the summary execution of Iran’s General Qassem Suleimani killed last Friday at Baghdad airport via a drone strike. A strike that could escalate dangerously in the Middle East’s explosive environment.
Unsurprisingly, the 2020 campaign for the US presidency is seeing the rise of left-wing Democrat Bernie Sanders with declarations like this one (in Los Angeles on 21 December):
“Our campaign is not only about defeating Trump, our campaign is about a political revolution. It is about transforming this country, it is about creating a government and an economy that works for all people and not just the 1%.”
I am highlighting this because it is a remarkable statement. It marks the distance we’ve covered in a single decade: This is the language of the Occupy Wall Street movement that opened the decade in 2011. And now the once derided concept of the 1% against the 99% has gone mainstream. So much so that it can buoy a candidate in his bid for the White House (Sanders, as I write, is just behind Biden and ahead of Warren).
You see rants in headlines, like this one from C-Net’ s Jackson Ryan: “We see the effects of climate change and our leaders continue to ignore the science”. A rant coming not just from journalists but scientists too.
Now, in 2019, we can all agree that the “world is on fire” and that the 2010s have been a “lost decade”. Yet back in 2013, K.C. Green, a talented cartoonist could still joke about it in a stunning piece of black humor. This is the closing panel of his 6-panel piece(screenshot):