Audit Notes: Regressive Taxes, Another Task Force, Keller on Copyright

Kevin Drum looks at how regressive taxes are at the state and local level, an issue that doesn’t get nearly enough attention.

While the federal system is progressive overall, even after taking into account payroll taxes, the well-off pay far less of their income in state and local taxes than the poor do.

I live in Seattle, a very liberal city in a slightly left-of-center state. But Washington state’s taxes are the most regressive of the bunch. The poorest 20 percent here pay a stunning 17.3 percent of their income in state and local taxes. The richest 1 percent, which includes lots of tech millionaires and the second richest man on the planet, pays 2.6 percent. The poor pay 6.7 times as much of their income as the rich do here.

That’s because we don’t have a state income tax here, and sales taxes and excise taxes hit lower-income people much harder. But even states with income taxes have regressive regimes.

As Drum notes, there’s not a single state that doesn’t tax its poor more than its rich.

— Over at The Huffington Post, Inside Job director Charles Ferguson writes about how and why the financial industry has gotten off easy under the Obama administration, which has just announced another task force to follow the one that was exposed as a stunt a year ago:

President Obama’s personnel appointments were heavily weighted towards those who had sat by and done nothing as the housing bubble grew (Tim Geithner, Ben Bernanke), former officials who had made major contributions to causing it (Larry Summers), senior lobbyists for the worst of the banks (Mark Patterson, Tom Donilon), a former board member of AIG (Richard Holbrooke), and literally dozens of former executives of banks and hedge funds that had played major roles in causing the crisis. The new chair of the SEC, Mary Shapiro, was the former head of the investment banking industry’s self-regulation body, which brought not a single enforcement action related to the bubble. Her new director of enforcement, Robert Khuzami, was formerly general counsel for Deutsche Bank, which profited by helping John Paulson create securities so that he could profit by betting that they would fail…

…the SEC has filed some civil fraud cases — not many, and not big. Thus far, every single one has been settled with a minor fine, with neither individuals nor banks required to admit guilt. Criminal prosecutions of banks? Zero. Criminal prosecutions of senior financial executives related to the bubble? Zero. RICO cases, such as were used against Michael Milken and are routinely used against drug dealers and other organized criminals to seize their assets and forfeit their ill-gotten gains? Zero. Sarbanes-Oxley prosecutions, based on CEOs’ certification of obviously fraudulent financial statements? Zero. In Mr. Obama’s three years in office, not a single U.S. bank or senior financial executive has been convicted of any crime (or even prosecuted), or had their assets confiscated.

— Bill Keller has some good thoughts on copyright and the SOPA dustup in The New York Times:

But the legislation in question, drafted by the once-mighty entertainment industries, was vague and ham-handed, a case of overreach by Hollywood’s lobbyists. In the journalistic equivalent of taking a bullet for you, I read all 78 staggeringly dull pages of the House version, called SOPA. Interpreted in the most draconian way, it might have criminalized innocent sites and messed with the secure plumbing of the Internet itself. The partisans of an unfettered Internet saw their moment, and seized it. They unleashed a wave of protest that included much waving of the First Amendment and an attention-grabbing blackout of Wikipedia, the company’s most conspicuous foray into protest politics. The legislation is dead, and proponents of the open Web have shown that they are the new power in Washington.

The question is, how will they use their muscle now? Does this smackdown mean that any attempt to police the Web for thievery is similarly doomed?…

When the founders enshrined free speech in the Constitution, they did not mean “free” in the sense of Wikipedia. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in an important 1985 Supreme Court decision supporting intellectual property rights: “the Framers intended copyright itself to be the engine of free expression. By establishing a marketable right to the use of one’s expression, copyright supplies the economic incentive to create and disseminate ideas.”

Content-makers would be crazy to let the Internet be stunted as a force for invention, mobilization and shared wisdom. It’s the sea we all swim in.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,