The recent ProPublica report showed how the wealthy contributed so little in taxes compared to the increase in their wealth – including the likes of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Warren Buffet. In this piece, Abigail Disney, the grand niece of Walt Disney and someone who inherited a stupendous amount of wealth at a young age tries to explain why the rich are so loath to paying taxes despite their massive philanthropic contributions.
“The shock stems, in part, from a disturbing reality: Nowhere does ProPublica assert that these men cheated, lied, or did anything felonious to lower their tax burdens. The naked fact of the matter is that not a single one of the documented methods and practices that allowed these billionaires to so radically minimize their tax obligations was illegal.
What’s worse, these methods and practices—things such as offsetting income with losses in unrelated businesses; structuring assets to grow rather than generate income, then borrowing against those growing assets for cash needs; and deducting interest payments and state taxes from taxable income—are so downright mundane and commonly applied that most rich people don’t see them as unethical. The more interesting question is not how the men in ProPublica’s report were able to avoid paying much or anything in federal income taxes, but why. What motivates people with so much money to try to withhold every last bit of it from the public’s reach?
One factor is the common ideology that underlies all of these practices: The government is bad and cannot be trusted with money. Far better for the wealthy to keep as much of it as possible for themselves and use (a fraction of) it to do benevolent things through philanthropy.
My grandfather Roy O. Disney, who co-founded the Walt Disney Company with his brother Walt, was a fervent believer in this idea. He was so determined to prevent the government from taking any of the money he wanted to leave to his family that he created generation-skipping trusts to end-run the IRS. What he did back then was so effective that most of it is illegal today.
I will protest to my dying breath that he was a good man—one of the best, in fact.
But I will also add, at the very end of that dying breath, that he should not have been able to do that.”

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