Death and Taxes

On September 27, The New York Times published a piece revealing a plethora of information on President Trump’s tax returns. The most shocking of these revelations was that he paid only $750 in federal income tax the year he was elected president. In addition, the piece uncovered that many of his businesses are failing, he wrote off extravagant purchases as “business expenses”, he received significant financial support from foreign entities, and he is nearly $421 million dollars in debt. Trump has always built himself up as a business prodigy, an unmatched titan in the real-estate game. If this information is correct, it proves what people have been saying for years, that the president’s persona is built upon lies and deception. However, Trump is not the first rich person to avoid taxes and the myth of the self-made man is not unique to him. The revelations surrounding the president’s tax returns are indicative of a larger problem surrounding income inequality in the United States.

If asked to give an example of a “self-made man” one might cite someone like Jeff Bezos. He is famous for his rags-to-riches story, but this narrative conceals the true nature of his career path. Bezos is famous for starting Amazon in his garage and working hard to grow his company into what it is today. However, few people mention the fact that his parents invested $300,000 into his startup. It’s certainly no “small loan of a million dollars”, but it’s a sizable amount of money. Furthermore, Bezos’ father was able to financially support him all throughout time at college. That is not to say that Bezos didn’t work hard or that he doesn’t deserve success, I simply want to point out that his success is built off existing financial stability. A person who “came from nothing” wouldn’t have these advantages. They couldn’t focus on long-term goals because they’re too busy trying to survive until tomorrow. There are definitely exceptional individuals who have pulled themselves out of abject poverty and become millionaires, but they are few and far between.

As of now, Jeff Bezos is the richest person on Earth with an estimated net worth of $185 billion. With wealth like that you would expect he has to pay astronomical amounts of money in taxes. However, from 2017 – 2019, Amazon paid $0 in federal income taxes. Ironically, Trump criticized Amazon for this back in 2018. The usual justification for this is that people like Bezos and Trump earned their money through hard work and therefore, they deserve to keep it. However, this argument doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Working-class and middle-class people work hard every day, probably just as hard as Bezos in some cases; and yet, they pay more in taxes than the entirety of Amazon. People will also argue that increasing taxes on the rich will impede economic growth. However, how can an economy expand when consumers have no money to purchase goods? Taxes on the wealthy are an effective way to redistribute wealth, ensuring that individuals have the funds to support businesses they enjoy. From both a moral and economic standpoint, it would be beneficial to tax the rich more heavily.

So, what does this say about the tax code in the United States? I think that it clearly shows that our tax system is built in a way that benefits rich people at the expense of the poor, and the myth of the self-made man only serves to justify this inequality. The tax codes must be rewritten so that wealthy individuals have to pay their share. I admire the ingenuity and work acumen of people like Jeff Bezos, but they didn’t do it on their own. They only achieved success because they drew support from the people around them, it’s only right that they give back.