The lead article on page one of the New York Times today (Nov 27, 2011) concerned the "Artfully Sheltered" wealth of Ronald S. Lauder, heir to the Estée Lauder fortune. The piece goes on to describe Mr. Lauder's "shrewd use of the United States tax code" to shelter his substantial income. Many examples are listed. Lauder is criticized for generating charitable deductions (which support many worthy enterprises) as just one "facet of a sophisticated tax strategy used to preserve a fortune...." He is said to have been involved in a "tax-sheltering stock deal so audacious that Congress later enacted a law forbidding the tactic."
What is the message here - the lead story in the Sunday New York Times? Are readers to find Lauder's financial "shenanigans" intolerable, and regard him as nothing more than an execrable member of the "1%." What has Lauder done? Has he broken a law? Has he been too meager with his benevolent financial assistance? Has he bilked naive investors of money? Has he run a Ponzi scheme? Has he been nefarious in not publicly calling for the elimination of tax loopholes?
Ronald Lauder is no crook. The article cites no illegalities. His actions are the actions just about every one of us would take. We are all "guilty" of using loopholes as methods to limit our taxes. Most of us would opt for ourselves before we opt for the "greater good." Most all of us are dedicated to preserving our fortunes for ourselves and for our heirs. When our tax preparers advise us of legal ways to preserve income, we jump at them - gleefully embracing legal tax havens!
Rather than making Lauder seem like the "bad guy," the Times should have emphasized who the real bad guys are - Congress. Lauder and his wealthy cohorts did not write the tax codes. Lauder is doing what every red-blooded American seems to do - finding legal ways to preserve his wealth. If we want Lauder, etc. to start paying more taxes, it is up to us to close those tax gaps! If we don't want wealth to be perpetuated for fear of advancing a plutocracy, perhaps we should eliminate the ease with which this is accomplished. "Occupy Wall Street" should be "Occupy Washington" (with the appropriate acronym "Ow!")
It is wrong to crucify the wealthy for legally-acquired wealth. It is wrong to crucify the wealthy for attempts to legally retain and pass on their wealth. We would all do the same. It is we, the people - the "99%" and the "1%" - who bear the responsibility to change a system we feel is not equitable - and to do so thoughtfully and legally