Have an Opinion: Who’s Up for Some Shared Sacrifice?

So, here is something you might want to consider the next time someone tells you about how times are tight, and there’s a need for “shared sacrifice”, and we need to get rid of “entitlements” like Medicare, unemployment extensions, and Social Security hikes.  It’s something you might want to remember the next time someone says we “all” have to “feel the pain” and that there simply “isn’t enough money” to pay for programs that help the poor and the middle class.

Despite high unemployment and a largely languishing real estate market, U.S. businesses are more profitable than ever, according to federal figures released on Friday.

U.S. corporate profits hit an all-time high at the end of 2010, with financial firms showing some of the biggest gains, data from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis show.  Corporations reported an annualized $1.68 trillion in profit in the fourth quarter.  The previous record, without being adjusted for inflation, was $1.65 trillion in the third quarter of 2006.

Many of the nation’s preeminent companies have posted massive increased in profits this year.  General Electric posted worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, while profits at JPMorgan Chase* were up 47 percent to $4.8 billion.

Boy, with profits like that, they must be creating all kinds of great jobs!  Oh, wait.  Seems like the only people being asked to sacrifice something are the people who can’t afford to sacrifice anything.

But don’t shared-sacrifice yet…there’s more!

Since Obama was inaugurated, the Dow Jones has increased more than 50% — from 8,000 to more than 12,000; the wealthiest received a massive tax cut; the top marginal rate was three times less than during the Eisenhower years and substantially lower than during the Reagan years; income and wealth inequality are so vast and rising that it is easily at Third World levels; meanwhile, “the share of U.S. taxes paid by corporation has fallen from 30 percent of federal revenue in the 1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009.”  During this same time period, the unemployment rate has increased from 7.7% to 8.9%; millions of Americans have had their homes foreclosed; and the number of Americans living below the poverty line increased by many millions, the largest number since the statistic has been recorded.

Now, let’s take a look just at that highlighted statistic.  While working-class people are asked to give up their pensions, medical care, unemployment benefits and retirement money — which, contrary to Republican propaganda, are not parasitical government handouts, but either (in the case of pensions) a part of a legal employment contract for which they have already worked, or (in the case of so-called ‘entitlements’) money they have already earned by paying their taxes — multi-billion-dollar corporations are paying less in taxes every year.  To take one example, General Electric had one of its most profitable years ever, taking in $14.2 billion in profits.  Yet, thanks to lobbying, tax shelters, loopholes, offshore banking, government programs, and other accounting sorcery, it paid not a penny in taxes in 2010.  In fact, it claimed tax benefits — that is to say, repayments and refunds — of $3.2 billion.

Now, numbers like that get tossed around in these conversations without much pause to consider exactly how much is actually being discussed.  So let’s consider just for a moment what could be done if just one huge multinational corporation gave up not its gargantuan yearly profits, but merely its tax refund for a single fiscal year:

  • Fund an extra week of unemployment for every person in the United States out of work
  • Give every unemployed person in the state of Maine a job paying $50,000 a year
  • Completely eliminate the budget deficits of Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, New Mexico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Utah
  • Pay off the entire cost of cleaning up the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico
  • Cover the costs of all the food eaten by 500,000 average families in a year
  • Fully fund public health care costs for over 400,000 people
  • Build enough wind turbines to power over 350,000 homes
  • Buy a different person a new car every day for the next 350 years
  • Pay all tuition and expenses at a private 4-year university for 91,000 students
  • Pay for 1/10th of the war in Afghanistan

So, that’s just a few of the things that GE alone could do — not if it paid its fair share of taxes like most of us have to, not if it cut into its mammoth profits, not if it did anything that would cost it anything whatsoever, but merely if it gave back the huge tax refund it gained through the usual financial chicanery.  By the way, Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, was recently named by Barack Obama to head his economic advisory council.  Immelt made $25,413,891 in the last three years, so it sounds like he’s got some good advice to give, all right.

*:  This figure represents roughly 1/30th of the amount of money taxpayers spent to bail out JPMorgan Chase during the financial crisis of 2008.  They didn’t need the money, but they took it anyway, to fund their acquisition of other banks.

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