The 2014 budget for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, is approximately $80 billion. That sounds like an astronomical amount of money… until you realize that the 14 richest Americans made more than that last year alone.
The SNAP budget was recently cut because of a lack of federal funding, while those 14 Americans increased their wealth from $507 billion to $589 in one single year from their investment earnings, wrote Paul Buchheit for AlterNet. Forbes also reported that combined, “the 400 wealthiest Americans are worth a staggering $2.29 trillion, up $270 billion from a year ago.”
So how does this happen, that the wealthiest have so much and the rest of us have so little?
Buchheit says that part of it is that the wealthiest “can afford to hold onto their fortunes, defer taxes indefinitely, and pay a smaller capital gains rate when they eventually decide to cash in.”
The uber-rich also hide their earnings from the federal government. “It is estimated that $7.6 trillion of personal wealth is hidden in tax havens. That means, stunningly, that $1 of every $12 of worldwide wealth is hidden in a haven.”
And while these inconceivably wealthy people would like you to think that they work just as hard as the rest of us, and built their empires from the ground up, Buchheit notes that a review of the top-20 wealthiest “shows that opportunism and ruthless business practices and tax avoidance, rather than entrepreneurship, vaulted these individuals to the top.”
For example, the Koch brothers are raping the environment, trying to abolish the minimum wage, and are laying off thousands of workers. Walmart “makes $13,000 in pre-tax profits per employee … yet takes a taxpayer subsidy of $5,815 per worker.”
Warren Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, “openly admits that it owes back taxes since as long ago as 2002,” according to the New York Post.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos spends millions per year on lobbyists, lawyers, and political campaigns “to maintain Amazon’s tax-free sales in order to undercut competitors and drive them out of business.”
The founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, are also masters at avoiding taxes, with nearly $10 billion held overseas.
With the richest able to exploit the American tax system at the expense of the country’s poorest, it’s no wonder that the wealth gap continues to grow. If the government doesn’t change the tax laws, and fast, it’s likely the gap will widen and those of us not in the one percent will continue to suffer.