By Robert Reich
As hundreds of thousands take to the streets to protest ruthless police killings of Black Americans and centuries of systemic racism, Donald Trump and his enablers have been quick to cast the protesters as violent “looters” – and distract from the real looters of America.
So far, over 10,000 Americans have been arrested during the wave of protests. Yet a decade ago, after Wall Street bankers looted America through predatory lending and securities fraud – often preying upon people of color and causing American households to lose roughly $19 trillion in total wealth – not a single top Wall Street executive went to prison. Instead, they received billions in taxpayer bailouts, and executives took home massive bonuses.
Now, during the coronavirus pandemic and an unprecedented economic crisis, America’s billionaires have seen their wealth soar by $434 billion. How? Their corporations lobbied for and got $500 billion in bailouts and they got $135 billion in tax breaks. And the Treasury Department and the Fed are erasing the corporate debt they amassed over the last few years so their corporations could buy back their shares of stock. Meanwhile, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Walmart, and other corporate giants are using their vast market power to rack up record profits.
The corporate looting doesn’t stop there. Just look at the epidemic of wage theft through misclassifying employees as independent contractors and denying workers the overtime pay they are due. Every year, American employers steal a combined $15 billion in income from their workers, whether white, black or brown.
The most profitable corporations in America are also looting America of billions in taxes through loopholes, write-offs, and special exemptions they’ve successfully lobbied for. Amazon paid just a 1.2 percent tax rate on $13 billion in profit in 2019. Other companies, including Chevron, Halliburton, and Netflix, haven’t paid a dime in federal taxes in recent years. The United States loses nearly $70 billion a year in tax revenue because corporations loot America by shifting their profits to tax havens overseas.
Meanwhile, entire industries loot Black and brown communities. Predatory payday lenders, focusing on communities of color, offer loans with sky-high interest rates and hidden fees that trap borrowers in a never-ending cycle of poverty. The bail bond industry profits from mass incarceration and the failed war on drugs, as does America’s prison-industrial complex – keeping over 2 million Americans behind bars, disproportionately black and brown. All these corporations have platoons of lobbyists that keep their looting going.
Here’s what Donald Trump and his corporate cronies will never admit: The worst looting in America isn’t breaking windows at Target or Wells Fargo. It’s billions of dollars in wage theft, unjustifiable tax breaks for the top 1 percent, corporate tax havens, predatory loans, bail bonds, mass incarceration, and crooked Wall Street bankers who have never been accountable to anything but their bottom line.
By pitting us against each other – blaming immigrants, blaming liberals, and especially blaming people of color, and Black people in particular – they’ve divided us, and gotten away with it.
This needs to end. Stand together, and know the truth about the real looters in America.