Tax-shelters, off-shore companies and other dodges

Just got finished reading a story in the NY Times about Ronald Lauder, heir to the Estee Lauder fortune. It might be easy to read the story and find a lot to dislike about Lauder, his great (inherited) wealth and the use of byzantine schemes to reduce his tax burden make him an easy target. And that’s fine if you go in for that sort of thing, but reading this I was reminded of other areas where regulators failed.

I’ve noted a few of these places before and their similarities. To me the baseball steriod scandals and the failure of banking regulators to adequately police risk prior to the financial crisis are analogous. There was bad behavior on both sides but it’s more the failure of the groups that were set up to regulate those industries and administrations that are there to safeguard their integrity. Call me a cynic, but I just don’t think we can depend on people to do the right thing. We have to adequately police them.

So while it may seem distasteful to read about Lauder’s various tax-dodges, they are all legal and I could easily see him justifying them with his philanthropic activity.

I’m about a third of the way through Treasure Islands, a book about tax havens. It’s truly disgusting the way the rich and corporations have been able to set up myriad ways for them to avoid paying their fair share. This to me cuts right to the heart of the matter.

I’d really like to see some of the OWS outrage get focused on the issue of taxes. Focus first on reforming the US tax code, and then start to move more aggressively against the global system of tax shelters and the countries that provide them.

But with Washington seemingly at a standstill, unable to do anything productive for the country, is there anyone that thinks our politicians are up to the task of taking on the extremely wealthy special interests that benefit greatly from this system?

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