Oligarchy in America

Jane Mayer wrote in the New Yorker yesterday about Trump the oligarch.

Now, with the Times reporting that congressionally crafted loopholes for real-estate magnates could have enabled Trump to legally evade all income taxes for eighteen years, while earning as much as fifty million dollars a year, we have a perfect example of how oligarchic interests have made inroads in the United States. The question now is whether the American public favors this trend.

One definition of an oligarch, according to the Northwestern University political scientist Jeffrey A. Winters, the author of “Oligarchy,” is an individual with enough money to employ the protection of what he calls the “wealth defense industry.” Oligarchs worldwide face threats of different kinds, but in the U.S. the greatest threat is from redistribution—which is achieved by the state imposing progressive income taxes. So the “wealth defense industry” in America—sophisticated accountants, consultants, lawyers, lobbyists, and think-tank apologists—is uniquely focussed on carving out tax loopholes for its rich clients.

Result: the 1%.

The defense of tax avoidance by Trump and his surrogates may be a particularly hard sell in light of his relentless trash-talking of America’s roads, airports, schools, military, and other publicly financed projects. “Our country’s becoming a Third World country!” Trump reiterated at a rally in Manheim, Pennsylvania, on Saturday night. If so, voters might fairly say, as Hillary Clinton did at last week’s debate, “Maybe because you haven’t paid any federal income tax for a lot of years.”

During that debate, Trump’s best line of attack was to hit Clinton for having been involved in politics for thirty years while so many problems have festered. But the same point could be made about him. For decades, Trump has been part of the private sector that has used its wealth and power to carve out tax loopholes for its own self-interest. This may be acceptable in Russia, and other oligarchic parts of the world, but whether it’s O.K. in America, too, is now on the ballot next month.

Among other things.

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