Now updated with a new prologue!
Since the mid-1970s, there has been a dramatic shift in America's socioeconomic system, one that has gone virtually unnoticed by the general public. Tax policies and their enforcement have become a disaster, and thanks to discreet lobbying by a segment of the top 1 percent, Washington is reluctant or unable to fix them. The corporate income tax, the estate tax, and the gift tax have been largely ignored by the media. But the cumulative results are remarkable: today someone who earns a yearly salary of $60,000 pays a larger percentage of his income in taxes than the four hundred richest Americans.
Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter David Cay Johnston exposes exactly how the middle class is being squeezed to create a widening wealth gap that threatens the stability of the country. By relating the compelling tales of real people across all areas of society, he reveals the truth behind:
"Middle class" tax cuts and exactly whom they benefit.
How workers are being cheated out of their retirement plans while disgraced CEOs walk away with millions.
How some corporations avoid paying any federal income tax.
How a law meant to prevent cheating by the top 2 percent of Americans no longer affects most of them, but has morphed into a stealth tax on single mothers making just $28,000.
Why the working poor are seven times more likely to be audited by the IRS than everyone else.
How the IRS became so weak that even when it was handed complete banking records detailing massive cheating by 1,600 people, it prosecuted only 4 percent of them.
Johnston has been breaking pieces of this story on the front page of The New York Times for seven years. With Perfectly Legal, he puts the whole shocking narrative together in a way that will stir up media attention and make readers angry about the state of our country.
Since he began writing about taxes for the New York Times in 1995, Johnston's investigative reporting has earned two Pulitzers. The journalistic legwork informs every page of this expos of the ways in which, he says, America's taxation system is stacked in favor of the wealthy. Johnston evades the imposing abstractness of the tax code by keeping the story focused on individuals, from working-class parents facing audits to Internal Revenue Service officials desperate for the resources to revamp their procedures. Chapters addressing the inability of the IRS to go after the worst tax cheats, thanks in part to opposition from grandstanding members of Congress, are particularly effective in putting a spotlight on the problem, but there's plenty of space given to revealing how canny tax attorneys come up with legal (and barely legal) ways to get around the system. And for those who can afford it, he reports, there's always a new dodge available once the law has caught up to the latest tricks. At some points, dealing with numbers becomes unavoidable, but even here Johnston displays a knack for breaking the story down into easily grasped components. Though the tax cuts engineered by Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush receive most of the criticism, Democrats come in for their fair share of opprobrium. Genuine reform, he suggests, will require serious and sustained attention from the public, not just reflexive griping. His book is a thoughtful overview for any citizens willing to educate themselves on the issue.