On Sunday, The New York Times broke a story that revealed the state of Donald Trump’s taxes. Infuriatingly — but unsurprisingly — Trump has paid no federal income tax in ten out of the last fifteen years. In 2016 and 2017, Trump paid a whopping $750. By contrast, in 2017 — the year I graduated from college and worked as a public school teacher — I paid $1,562.
That I paid more than double the amount of taxes that the billionaire president of the United States did is not unusual — almost every working-class person pays more than Trump. The average amount paid in federal income tax in New York, the state Trump filed in, is over $7,000, and the national average is around $8,000 per household. What this means is that the majority of working class people, the people who make this economy run and who create all the wealth that Trump and others horde away, are paying more to the federal government every year than Trump.
Trump is not alone in this. We’ve known for years that the wealthy are experts at finding ways to exploit tax loopholes to avoid paying their taxes. In fact, to call this exploitation is a misnomer: These tax laws were written to ensure that the rich are able to pay as little as possible. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.
In the U.S. there are essentially two tax systems. For working class people, taxes are taken out of our paycheck every month and the IRS keeps thorough records of how much money we’ve made. While, of course, “under-the-table” work is hidden from this system, it is very difficult to actually cheat the system as your employer tells the government directly how much money you make. The wealthy, on the other hand, are asked to declare at the end of the tax year how much they earned, calculate how much they owe, and then pay it. Unless they are audited, the government just takes their word for how much they owe. (In fact, low-income Americans are usually more likely to be audited than the wealthy.) This is how rich people are able to pay almost nothing in tax: They hire the best accountants that money can buy and game the system while working people have money taken out automatically. As a result, the wealthiest people in America owe at least $266 billion dollars in unpaid taxes every year.
This should enrage every single working person. Not only do Trump and his ilk enrich themselves by exploiting our labor — as that is the basis of the entire capitalist system — but they tax us at higher levels because they have the resources to legally avoid paying taxes through “loopholes” written into the law for their benefit. We both create their wealth and fund their governments, all while getting nothing but austerity and misery in return. It isn’t enough for these people to simply steal the products of our labor — they nickel-and-dime us on their taxes too.
Capitalist governments exist to protect the interests of the bourgeoisie and defend their property. This is done through wide-scale repression of the working class and oppressed. We see evidence of this in the gigantic police budgets, the massive military, and the number of government contracts that go to associates of politicians. As this spending increases, governments massively cut social programs and refuse to give us free healthcare — even in the midst of the pandemic. That capitalists leave us to fund the force that oppresses us adds insult to injury. The repressive arms of the state are funded by the taxes of the working class but serve the interests of the bourgeoisie.
This is how capitalism works: it cloaks bourgeois criminality in legal loopholes while insisting that the working class pay for everything. If you are too poor to pay your taxes, you are unable to file for unemployment, may have your wages docked, and can even be imprisoned. It is impossible to imagine the police evicting Donald Trump from his Manhattan home, seizing his assets at a golf course, or putting him in handcuffs for defrauding the government. The worst thing that could possibly happen to Trump because of all of this is that he loses the election — hardly an equivalent punishment to what would happen to a working-class person in his position.
In the coming days, highly-paid pundits will go on cable news, wag their fingers, and talk about the need for tax reform but nothing will happen — Trump won’t be arrested, forced to pay back the money he owes, nor face any consequences. Because both the Democrats and the Republicans are beholden to their capitalist base, they will never do anything to meaningfully limit their ability to accumulate capital. Joe Biden said this explicitly: “Nothing will fundamentally change.”
Capitalism is, by its very nature, a system of robbery. Bertolt Brecht, the communist playwright and poet, wrote in Threepenny Opera: “What is the burgling of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?” These words ring as true today as they did when they were written. As Trump, Biden, and other bourgeois politicians ring their hands over “looting” at Black Lives Matter protests, we must understand that the ruling class has stolen literally everything they have from us. Their wealth was made off of our labor, they don’t pay the pittance they’re expected to in taxes, and they are kept safe by agents of oppression — who we are forced to pay for! As the current economic crisis deepens, the capitalists will impose increasing austerity and continue to force us to pay for it. We must refuse to pay for the crisis that capitalism created. Only the unified force of the working class can fight back this capitalist onslaught and protect the most vulnerable.