Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Dean: A Plea To President Biden To Stop Perpetuating Racist Tax Policy

Steven Dean (Brooklyn), A Plea to President Biden to Stop Perpetuating Racist Tax Policy:

Dear President Biden,
You have pledged to fight to rid our nation of systemic racism. I believe you mean that. But it seems that many in your administration do not. Or perhaps they simply underestimate your resolve.

When you announced your plan last week to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, you showed a way to pay much of the cost with tax increases on corporations. You did not dwell on the complex details, yet you did take time to single out the Cayman Islands and Bermuda to blame for the failures of our corporate income tax. For reasons that I understand all too well, you identified the wrong culprits.

In your remarks, you explained that corporations had hidden profits in the Caymans and Bermuda. That may be true, in a sense. But it also encapsulated the racism and xenophobia you promised to purge from our political discourse. ...

I blame your extraordinary team of tax specialists. When Paul Krugman joked that there were no tax experts that had not already joined your administration, I immediately thought of one whom they had not even had a conversation with until a few days ago.

With her acclaimed book The Whiteness of WealthDorothy Brown showed the world what we tax nerds long suspected.

As Brown bluntly puts it: “When white and Black Americans engage in the exact same thing—marriage, homeownership, job, paying for college—tax policy advantages the white way of engaging in behavior while disadvantaging the Black way of engaging in the behavior.” While the long-standing IRS refusal to calculate statistics by race makes hard data scarce, nobody knows more about the ways racism affects our tax laws than Brown does. The reason your team snubbed her, despite your vow to challenge systemic racism, helps explain why they did not adequately warn you against using your bully pulpit to indict a pair of majority-Black countries for the failures of our global tax system without mentioning majority-white Ireland or Switzerland.

They simply don’t want to talk about race. Which is a problem. One of your first actions as president was issuing an executive order addressing systemic racism. For the first time, that will force our nation’s tax officials to acknowledge that the tax law may not only reflect but also exacerbate white privilege. ...

Even if you managed to completely vanquish racism in every other part of government, failing to address it in taxation would be a problem. That would be like replacing all our gas guzzlers with electric cars only to fuel them with coal-burning power plants. You can’t fix systemic racism without taking a hard look at—and sometimes being told a hard truth about—the laws that provide the fuel our government runs on.

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