Bill Moyers Tees Off on “The United States of Inequality”

Bill Moyers Tees Off on “The United States of Inequality” April 23, 2013


“If there was a class war… my class won.” – Warren Buffett

Bill Moyers’ video essay, “The United States of Inequality” is a pretty interesting take. I am becoming increasingly convinced that the biggest threat our society faces is not the debt, climate change, North Korea, Islamic fundamentalism, or global terrorism. It is the growing gap between the rich and the poor. It’s growing dramatically and is fast reaching the point at which it will destabilize American society. 100% of all civil wars are fought over these sorts of issues.

Moyers goes after the Obama administration’s pathetic leadership on this issue, as well as the GOP’s blind commitment to the rich. This is a plague on both their houses. While corporate profits are sailing and the stock market hit an all-time high, corporations are playing all of us. They are paying less in taxes than ever, and not adding jobs as they always promise to do; all for the sake of higher executive salaries, bonuses, and higher stock prices. Corporations are running the country now, they are rigging the game so that the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class disappears and nobody seems to have the will to check corporate power.

We are living in a new Robber Baron age and our government seems to lack the ability or leadership to do anything about it. Moyers says, “A petty, narcissistic, pridefully ignorant politics has come to dominate and paralyze our government while millions of people keep falling through the gaping hole that has turned us into the United States of Inequality.”

Here are some of his stats.

  • January 2013: personal income dropped 3.6%, the sharpest one month dive in 20 years.
  • Pfizer: 40% of their sales are in the U.S. and they paid no taxes.
  • Microsoft: avoided 4.5 billion in taxes by shifting income to Puerto Rico.
  • CitiGroup: 42.5 billion dollars sitting off shore, U.S. taxes – zero
  • The U.S. collects less in taxes than all but only 2 other industrialized countries: Chile & Mexico

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  • scott stone

    Moyers is a hack. I’m all for narrowing the gap between rich and poor. The problem has to do with the process. Do we lift up those at the bottom or knock down those on the top? Unfortunately our politics these days seems more directed to increasing revenues by taxing those at the top, which I’ve stated I do not have a problem with. But we are not being effectual with where it is spent. We spend more on education (primary and secondary) than any country but 2. How are our results?
    Just a little fyi on Moyers stats. We collect more revenue than most countries GDP. We collected $2.48T in 2011. Great Britain has a GDP of $2.4T and France is at $2.7T. This notion that “The U.S. collects less in taxes than all but only 2 other industrialized countries: Chile & Mexico” is asinine. When someone makes up such outlandish statements (I’m being kind here. He flat out lied) you should question all of his statements.

  • scott stone

    My apologies for the little rant but this kind of stuff agitates me. I appreciate a good discussion but when someone is intentionally not being factual, as Moyers is quite often, you know there is an agenda that is being pushed. I’ll try and be a bit more cerebral in my future responses.
    Since we are both in agreement that income disparity is an issue, although I don’t perceive it to be as big of an issue as you do, what is your recommendation for the fix?
    One other thing. You should really move beyond the ‘corporations are evil’ mentality. There is way to much hyperbole in your post regarding corporations. Yes there are anomalies out there but most are small independent operations. Over half of all Americans work for a small business and most of these are corporations.

  • Tim Suttle

    I knew you’d say that, Scott!! I’m not even lying that I almost predicted it in the post! I think maybe this hits a nerve for you and it’s hard for you to entertain the argument that Moyers is making. He’s not lying, it’s not even a distortion. It’s a good stat & you need to play fair in your assessment :-). He cites a stat that considers tax revenue as a percent of GDP, which as you know, is a much more fair way to assess this than straight up dollars because the U.S. economy dwarfs even most industrialized nations. Of course the overall revenue is higher, but as a percent of GDP he’s telling the truth about where we are – 2nd to last among industrialized nations. You can’t call that a distortion, it’s true and it is a much better comparison than overall tax revenue. Come on man, you’re a stats guy. You’ve got to be able to see that.

    Hey man, I’ve never written that corporations are evil and I don’t think that. I’m simply agreeing with Moyers that income inequality is a growing issue and nobody in government on either side of the aisle seems to have the will to work on it. I think you are missing the thesis of Moyers argument. Income inequality is a growing problem and no one is addressing it. Why? Because big corporations have Washington in their pocket. That’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s just a reality. Don’t you see the irony? The very people who decry the “welfare state” and government dependency are the same folks who support what amounts to a corporate welfare (not small business, large corporations).

    You bring in a great point. Government has to get a lot smarter about small business policy. Small business get royally screwed compared to multinationals. It doesn’t make sense, especially when we know 1) small business employs more people than big corp, 2) small businesses create jobs more quickly 3) they also create better paying jobs, and 4) small businesses are more likely to put profits back into the business (as opposed to in their own pockets), usually creating more jobs. Small business policy is nowhere and this administration is doing nothing about it. But there is no pressure for them to do something about it. The pressure comes from the big boys.

  • scott stone

    I thought I’d get you excited by that. Here’s the thing that you probably aren’t taking into consideration, and I know Moyers isn’t offering this up. And since you too are a stats guy you’ll probably enjoy this. I agree that the corporate tax revenue as a percentage of GDP is continuing to get smaller. Now this may seem like a contradiction to my earlier response but I was waiting for your response to fill in the blanks. What Moyers doesn’t tell you is the true reason for this. In 1981 91% of all corporations were filed as a C corp. This is the standard corporation that files it’s taxes independent of its ownership. In 2010 roughly 58% of corporations filed as a C. The other entities have been filing as a Sub chapter S or LLC. These are pass through companies where business income is filed on personal taxes. I own a Sub S corp and an LLC. These tax revenues are collected by the treasury but are not reflected in the IRS revenue statement regarding income generated from corporations. This is the true reason for the decrease in corporate taxes as a percentage of GDP.
    Look, I have nothing to gain one way or another. I think as a nation we’ve done a horrible job lifting up those who live on the margin of life. It is appalling. We are the richest nation in the richest time in world history and we’ve got people that actually go hungry!! It is ridiculous. But until we get a true grasp of the problem and try and find real solutions that will impact those on the margins, all this talk about tax rates is just an exercise in futility.
    What I do know is that when you look at OECD numbers along with BEA and the PriceWaterhouseCooper analysis you see that the average effective corporate tax rate (AECR) is about 27.7%. There are only six countries that have a higher AECR than the US.
    What I think this boils down to is the same thing we’ve agreed on for a long time. Public finance of campaigns. No corporate donations, no union donations and limit personal donations to $1000. Get the money out of the elections. Then maybe we will have a real shot at reform and be able to help the least among us.
    One more thing, I’ve got a great book recommendation for you. “Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins” by Miguel De La Torre. This book rocks!

  • Scott Stone

    Sorry, slight correction. 61% of corporations in 2010 filed as C corp not 58%. 58% is the projection for 2015. Still explains lower corporate tax revenue collect by the fed the past 30 years as a percentage of GDP. My question really is why would Moyers not provide this info? Obviously he’s a smart dude and anyone that plays in this arena knows the facts and figures. My thought is that it doesn’t fit his narrative. It doesn’t fit the template he imagines. That’s the real reason I called him a hack. He knows better but the truth is at odds with his agenda. That and the fact that he called the cap gains tax law the “Mitt Romney clause.” He comes across as a punk.
    The odd thing for me is I agree that we have an issue with income disparity. California probably wasn’t the best state to use as an example though. It’s the state that has some of the highest tax rates along with tremendous government spending and they still have serious issues. As a gov’t we should find ways for companies to repatriate the money they hold overseas. Give some kind of incentive for them want to bring that money home.