Par David Schulz
F. Scott Fitzgerald [1896-1940, son ouvrage le plus célèbre: Gatsby le Magnifique] wrote: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. ” They certainly are. They don’t pay taxes. At least this is the conclusion of a recent study by ProPublica. What their study confirms are two points: 1 ° the rich operate according to a different set of rules in the United States, 2 ° and when we get to the point, everything is still a question of class.
ProPublica obtained secret IRS (Internal Revenue Service) files examining the tax returns of the super rich. These are the Michael Bloombergs, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Elon Musk from around the world. Many of them are heroes for liberals, donors for progressive causes, or simply favorites of those who hate Republicans and Donald Trump. These super billionaires make rhetoric when it comes to reproductive rights, guns, LGBT issues or space exploration, but when it comes to what matters most – money, taxes and social class – they are certainly very different from the rest of us.
While the middle and upper classes pay up to 37% of their income in taxes, these people often pay barely 1%. No, they are not tax cheaters like Donald Trump might be, who could be charged for it in New York. Cheating is crass and reserved for unsophisticated people. On the contrary, by legally using loopholes in the tax code, authorized loans and transfers, they can escape more than minimal tax obligations. Even if they prefer to bequeath their property, inheritance tax will not reach them. For the super rich, if death is certain, taxes are not.
Social class takes precedence over all other interests for these individuals. Bloomberg may hate Trump, but they share class interests. The same goes for Mark Zuckerberg [Facebook], Tim Cook [Apple], George Soros [Soros Fund Management] and Tom Steyer [Farallon Capital]. They can all talk about a better world, donate to the right charities, or even say they should pay more taxes. [comme Warren Buffett]. But in reality, they are not, and we should stop thinking that they are on the side of “average Americans”.
The study of ProPublica sheds light on the horrible secret of US politics that we refuse to see. Social classes exist and there are conflicts and class wars, except that only one side wins. And it is that of the rich. For most people, and often for much of American history, the reality of social class takes a back seat. The genius of American politics lies in the way in which the political system designed by James Madison [président de 1809 à 1817] and his collaborators recognized the reality of social class, as he describes it in number 10 of the Federalist Papers [85 essais écrits entre 1787 et 1788 par Madison, Alexander Hamilton et John Jay], a reality which is the main cause of the quarrels related to the unequal distribution of goods. But then they created a political system that divides us according to “centers” of interest in order to mitigate this reality. US politics is more often defined by how race, gender, region, religion, and even generations serve as conflicting elements. We often divide ourselves based on secondary elements, not realizing that while racism, sexism and homophobia are also real, the power of economic and class interests is behind everyone’s pain. If we take away from the white supremacists the possibility of enforcing their prejudices through economic sanctions, there will not be much left.
There was a time when social class was a central issue. It was at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, when the “old left” joined the unions to formulate economic demands. A small part of the narrowing of the gap between the rich and the poor happened because the working class lobbied for economic policies aimed at improving working conditions and expanding the welfare state.
The rich did not like it. They attacked the unions, and in the 1970s American companies stepped up and started spending huge sums of money lobbying. But even better for the rich, the left and the working class have turned against themselves. The old left was replaced by the “new left”, which eventually turned into a political force that simply ignored social classes. The new left is the neoliberalism of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and now Joe Biden. This is a superficial token policy, but in many cases, especially with the Clintons and Obamas, it has failed to meet the economic needs of the poor. What matters today for progressive or so-called leftist politics is that of the well-to-do who have had higher education, the petty bourgeoisie who have the luxury of ignoring the social class.
What the study of ProPublica should tell us is that it is necessary to create a new “old left”. We must consider that social class is at the origin of all forms of repression in our society, including police brutality, racism and sexism, and that if we do not tackle it, other brutalities will not be addressed. not defeated. (Article published on the website of Counterpunch as of June 11, 2021; translation by the editorial staff of A Against)
David Schultz is professor of political science at Hamline University (Minnesota).