There Can Be No Genuine Tax Reform Without Addressing Hidden Wealth

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Wealthy elites around the world are finding ways to hide all their earnings in offshore locations, according to the recently leaked “Paradise Papers.” (Photo: Wikirictor/ Creative Commons)

Just as Congress begins debate on the Republicans’ “Tax Cut and Jobs Act,” new revelations have emerged about how wealthy elites around the world hide their wealth.

The “Paradise Papers” — the result of a leak from the Bermuda-based law firm Appleby — shines additional light onto the shadowy world of hidden wealth and tax dodging.

Efforts to reform the U.S. tax system are fundamentally undermined by a global tax-avoidance system that allows individuals and corporations to shift trillions to offshore havens to escape taxation, accountability, and publicity.

The Paradise Papers, alongside the “Panama Papers” released in April 2016, provide another set of disclosures into a system full of titillating details about how high-ranking global officials have created their own system of rules. The Bermuda leaks disclose the role of high-ranking Trump administration members, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and White House economic advisor Gary Cohn, in using offshore tax havens.

National groups and political leaders, including Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi, are calling for a slowdown of Republican efforts to push through their tax bill to address these abuses.

Oxfam America and the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency (FACT) Coalition have called on Congress to hold hearings on the findings and a debate over how to best remedy them. Tax Justice Network international has called on the United Nations to convene a global summit to address tax haven abuse.

The hidden wealth system is used by both wealthy individuals and transnational corporations. Research by Gabriel Zucman and others estimates that households in the top 0.01 percent, those with wealth over $ 45 million, evade 25 to 30 percent of personal income and wealth taxes. This amounts to more than 10 percent of global GDP is hidden in offshore tax shelters.

Zucman estimates that tax haven use has grown 25 percent in the past five years and U.S. citizens have at least $ 1.2 trillion stashed offshore. In all, at least $ 200 billion a year in tax revenue is lost from wealthy individuals and $ 130 billion from corporate tax avoidance.

Hundreds of large transnational corporations use the offshore system to reduce or skirt their tax obligations. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Fortune 500 corporations hold an estimated $ 2.6 trillion offshore. Verizon, General Electric, Boeing, Nike, and Amazon are just a few of the offenders.

One common dodge is to shift paper profits to subsidiaries in low-tax or no-tax countries like the Cayman Islands or Ireland. Companies utilizing these schemes maintain the fiction that their profits are piling up “off shore” while their losses accrue in the United States, reducing or eliminating their obligation to Uncle Sam.

Systematically confronting offshore tax havens will require legislative action, international diplomacy, and sanctions and penalties aimed at both banks and tax-haven jurisdictions. Uniform disclosure and transparency, both of banks and capital flows, should be a fundamental component of all new treaties.

The United States has enormous responsibility and leverage in fixing this broken international system. Unfortunately, the House Republicans’ proposed tax legislation would only make matters worse. Rather than cracking down on offshore tax dodging, the bill would give companies that are hoarding profits in tax havens a $ 500 billion tax cut.

Groups working to oppose the current tax bill, including Americans for Tax Fairness and the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency (FACT) coalition, have been advocating to close offshore tax havens. They are pressing for such transparency reforms as disclosure of “beneficial ownership” of shell corporations and entities. “The Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act” would require virtually all U.S. companies to disclose who really owns or controls them when they are formed and to keep that information updated.

There can be no genuine tax reform until the hidden wealth system for wealthy individuals and transnational corporations is shut down.

The post There Can Be No Genuine Tax Reform Without Addressing Hidden Wealth appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


Detroit’s Revival Can’t Happen Without Women of Color

Detroit is full of what the late, legendary Detroit civil rights activist, Grace Lee Boggs, called solutionaries— women who have a revolutionary fervor for solving the city’s deep-rooted, chronic problems that threaten true, long-lasting revival of the city. The Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies spent a year surveying 500 women of color solutionairies through focus groups and a citywide survey in response to their near absence from the story about Detroit’s comeback. What we found is relayed in our new report, “I Dream Detroit: The Voice and Vision of Women of Color on Detroit’s Future.”

Solutionary women of color across the city work tirelessly to address problems like the fact that 33 percent of African-American and Latino boys do not graduate from high school. They support families caught in the crisis caused by the water department shutting off 30,000 delinquent residential accounts in 2016. And they help Detroiters who want to work, but are challenged by the fact that only 16 percent of the region’s jobs are within city limits and regional transportation is limited.

Detroit’s solutionaries are anchors within their communities; architects who build badly needed infrastructure that meet basic human needs; entrepreneurs who create jobs for people that the labor market overlooks; and advocates who represent the interests of those at the margins, as elected officials and leaders of community-based organizations. Most of the realities they confront are inextricably linked to poverty, a condition plaguing 40 percent of Detroiters, including a whopping 57 percent of the city’s children.

Read the full article in the Detroit News.


Under Armour Wants to Use Baltimore Tax Revenue Without Giving Back to the City

The entire city of Baltimore seemed to be cheering on Michael Phelps as he won his latest set of Olympic medals, continuing his reign as the most decorated Olympian of all time. No one can mistake Baltimore’s pride in our hometown hero. At the entrance to the city on Interstate 95, a giant billboard image of Phelps welcomes one and all.

That image is an advertisement for Under Armour, a brand almost as synonymous with Baltimore as our star swimmer. The major difference between the two? These days, Under Armour and its founder Kevin Plank are getting jeers from once loyal fans.

Why are Under Armour and Plank in such hot water? Sagamore Development Corporation, a company owned by Plank, is planning to revitalize a 260-acre stretch of former industrial land along Baltimore’s Inner Harbor into an exclusive “city within a city” that would house an expanded Under Armour campus. Plank’s one request to the city of Baltimore: To complete this massive Port Covington project, he’s asking for $ 535 million in “tax increment financing.”

If Plank gets these “TIFs” — a combination of upfront city bond payments and deferred property tax liability — his master plan wouldn’t add any new revenues to Baltimore’s tax base for another 40 years. On top of that, the Sagamore Development Corporation would be eligible for another $ 200 million in outright tax breaks.

Plank’s proposal comes with no binding commitment that the Port Covington project would create any affordable housing, hire locally, or promote local business development. What’s worse, his “city within a city,” local critics point out, would also put extra stress on Baltimore’s already underfunded schools, likely be inaccessible to current residents, and further segregate a Baltimore already deeply divided racially and economically.

Over recent years, Baltimore’s City Council has been greenlighting larger and larger TIF agreements and developer subsidies that have provided little if any public benefit. Observers expect the Council to approve the Port Covington plan early this fall, less than five months after its public unveiling.

Cities across the country have turned to similar TIF agreements and tax subsidies to attract big businesses and revitalize their urban cores. But studies and past experience have shown that these agreements do not serve the public interest. Plans like Plank’s have elsewhere generated few if any living-wage jobs for current residents and failed to create any appreciable wealth that trickles back into local communities.

Under Armour has built a compelling national identity around its Baltimore roots. Yet today the company operates just like any other multinational corporation. Baltimore has a skilled, experienced, and jobless industrial labor force. Yet all of Under Armour’s plants are located overseas, and no one at the company plans to move any of those jobs to its new Port Covington headquarters.

In his public outreach, Kevin Plank continues to claim that Under Armour remains committed long-term to Baltimore and the Port Covington project. His handshake agreements, vague promises, and hollow slogan, “We will build it together,” have enticed a few city residents.

But at a recent public hearing, Sagamore Development Corporation vice president, Caroline Paff, revealed Under Armour’s true colors on their future expansion.

“Development will happen here,” she not-so-subtly threatened, “or it will happen elsewhere.”

This sort of corporate strong-arming has become all too familiar in our modern age. Our contemporary urban development pits cities against one another, all to the benefit of a private corporate elite.

Instead of throwing our support behind large corporations that hold our cities hostage for subsidies and pledge allegiance only to shareholder bottom lines, we need to be investing in new sorts of participatory, community-driven development that circulates wealth back more widely throughout the local economy. And, in fact, Baltimore could learn some useful lessons from cities doing just that.

Cities elsewhere in the United States are now successfully building prosperity and a healthy tax base by encouraging cooperatively owned businesses and community-controlled housing. These cooperative enterprises are providing job opportunities in blighted communities often deemed too risky by traditional developers. Once up and running, they circulate money back into the local economy.

New York City has created a revolving loan fund that helps support new local businesses and gives them the tools they need to incorporate as worker-owned cooperatives. This fledgling new program has been so successful that the New York City Council has renewed and raised its funding.

Cleveland has developed what’s called an “anchor-institution strategy” that’s particularly relevant to Baltimore, a city with strong higher ed institutions — like Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland — committed to making an impact in their communities. Cleveland’s Evergreen Cooperative took root when local hospitals and universities agreed to help catalyze new industry and purchase — on an ongoing basis — products and services from local cooperative enterprises in their surrounding neighborhoods.

This commitment by Cleveland’s anchor institutions has won national acclaim and created stable, living-wage jobs in green industries for residents of deeply poor communities.

In Boston, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative has transformed one of the city’s most blighted neighborhoods into a vibrant, stable, and active community with permanent affordable housing and services. The Baltimore Housing Roundtable’s 20/20 Vision is already working with communities throughout the city to adapt Dudley Street’s community land trust model.

Our cities are facing a crisis. We can continue business as usual and allow development to drive out current residents and make our cities accessible only to the most affluent. Or we can chart a new path of inclusive development that creates vibrant and sustainable urban spaces.

Are you listening, Baltimore City Council?

The post Under Armour Wants to Use Baltimore Tax Revenue Without Giving Back to the City appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Allie Busching is a New Economy Maryland Fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies.


We Can Save Maryland From Climate Change Without Hurting the Economy


Storm surge flooding caused by Hurricane Isabel in Bowleys Quarters, Maryland. (Photo: WIkipedia)

Even as this year’s general election heats up, it’s the climate that’s really getting hot. July was the hottest month ever recorded, and the 10th straight month to break record temperatures, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. And 2016 is well on its way to surpassing 2015 as the hottest year ever recorded.

While we can’t predict the outcome of November’s election, we can easily predict the consequences of climate inaction.

Maryland will be hit especially hard, as the Chesapeake region’s receding coastline makes it more vulnerable to flooding. While the U.S. has experienced about 6 inches of sea level rise over the past 100 years, Maryland has experienced a foot. This rate will increase in the absence of significant intervention, with an additional two-foot rise likely by 2050. Such a rise in sea level will make extreme floods like the recent tragedy in Ellicott City more likely.

Read the full article on The Baltimore Sun’s website.

The post We Can Save Maryland From Climate Change Without Hurting the Economy appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Taylor Smith-Hams is a New Economy Maryland fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.


Without Change, African-American and Latino Families Won’t Match Current Average White Wealth for Centuries

August 8, 2016

Washington, D.C. – If current federal wealth-building policies remain in place, it will take the average African-American family 228 years to amass the same amount of wealth that white families have today and it will take Latino families 84 years to reach that goal, according to a new report from the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS).

The Ever-Growing Gap: Failing to Address the Status Quo Will Drive the Racial Wealth Divide for Centuries to Come shows how the well-documented chasm between white household wealth and African-American and Latino household wealth will play out over a period of decades and even centuries if nothing is done to change the current scenario.

For instance, the report finds that by 2043, when households of color are projected to account for more than half the U.S. population, the racial wealth divide between white households and African-American and Latino households will have doubled from about $ 500,000 in 2013 to $ 1 million.

The report notes that if these trends continue unabated, the entire economy will suffer. “By the time people of color become the majority, the racial wealth divide will not just be a racial and social justice issue impacting a particular group of people–it will be the single greatest economic issue facing our country,” according to the authors.

The Ever-Growing Gap uses new data from the Survey of Consumer Finances to examine the long-term trajectory of the racial wealth divide. Assuming that white wealth remains stagnant at today’s levels and average African-American wealth grows at the same pace it has over the past three decades, it would take the average black family until the year 2241 to accumulate wealth equal to what white families have today. By the same measure, Latino families would not reach parity with white family wealth until 2097.

“Wealth plays an essential role in helping people achieve financial security. It is money in the bank, a first home, a college degree and retirement security. As a nation we cannot sit idly by while huge swaths of society are denied those opportunities,” said Dedrick Asante-Muhammad, Director of the Racial Wealth Divide Project at CFED.

While the report documents the continuing impact of historic inequities, such as federally sanctioned housing discrimination and unequal distribution of G.I. Bill benefits, it notes that current tax policies have intensified the wealth divide by helping the highest earners get even wealthier while providing the lowest income families with almost nothing.

During the past two decades alone, the federal government has spent more than $ 8 trillion through tax programs to assist families in building long-term wealth, including saving for retirement, purchasing a home, starting a business or paying for college, according to the report. Since 1994, the federal government’s massive wealth-building spending has more than tripled, going from a little over $ 200 billion to $ 660 billion in 2015.

But the impact of these expenditures has been stunningly unequal or “upside down,” as the report points out, with typical millionaires today receiving about $ 145,000 in public tax benefits to grow their wealth while working families get a grand total of $ 174 on average.

The result is a financial bonanza for wealthy families. Over the past 30 years, the wealth of the Forbes 400 richest Americans has grown 736%–10 times the rate of growth for the Latino population and 27 times the rate of growth for the black population. If average African-American households had been able to enjoy the same growth rate as the Forbes 400 during that same period, they would have an extra $ 475,000 in wealth today. Latino households would have an extra $ 386,000.

The Ever-Growing Gap finds that if these trends continue, the Forbes 400 will see their average wealth skyrocket to a staggering $ 48 billion by 2043–more than eight times the amount they hold today. Similarly, the top 1% would see their average wealth balloon to $ 33 million. Overall, the average wealth for white families would increase by 84% to $ 1.2 million compared to $ 165,000 for Latino families (69% growth) and $ 108,000 for African-American households (27% growth).

The report calls on the next president and Congress to consider a range of policy options to help close the divide. They include:

  • Conducting a government-wide audit, launched by an executive order from the president, to determine the role federal policies play in perpetuating or closing the racial wealth divide. The audit, which would be overseen by a specially appointed ombudsperson, would include recommendations for how each government agency can reduce its role in growing the racial wealth divide.
  • Fixing unfair, upside-down tax incentives to ensure households of color also receive support to build wealth.The report points out the United States already has the resources to do this through the tax code, which currently doles out more than half a trillion dollars annually to help primarily wealthy households build more wealth.
  • Adopting revenue measures that would reduce wealth concentration at the top and generate significant funding that could be re-invested to create opportunity for those at the bottom. These include closing loopholes in the federal estate tax, creating an annual net worth tax on wealth over $ 50 million or a similar high threshold at a low rate of 1-2%, and reinstituting estate taxes in the more than 30 states that currently don’t have them.

“Federal policymakers have a clear choice to make: They can allow this pattern to continue and set our country on a road to economic devastation, or they can stop facilitating the wealth divide and start expanding opportunities to boost wealth for all families, especially households of color,” said Chuck Collins, Director of IPS’s Program on Inequality and the Common Good.

Amy Saltzman, 301.656.0348
Chuck Collins617.308.4433
Kristin Lawton, 202.207.0137


CFED‘s work makes it possible for millions of people to achieve financial security and contribute to an opportunity economy. We scale innovative practical solutions that empower low- and moderate-income people to build wealth. We drive responsive policy change at all levels of government. We support the efforts of community leaders across the country to advance economic opportunity for all. Established in 1979 as the Corporation for Enterprise Development, CFED works nationally and internationally through its offices in Washington, D.C.; Durham, North Carolina, and San Francisco, California.

The Institute for Policy Studies is a multi-issue research center that has conducted path-breaking research on inequality for more than 20 years. The IPS website provides an online portal into all things related to the income and wealth gaps that so divide us in the United States and throughout the world.

The post Without Change, African-American and Latino Families Won’t Match Current Average White Wealth for Centuries appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Chuck Collins is the director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Dedrick Asante-Muhammed is the director of the Racial Wealth Divide Initiative at the Corporation for Enterprise Development.
Josh  Hoxie is the director of the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Emanuel Nieves is the Government Affairs Manager at the Corporation for Enterprise Development.


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