June 14, 2021
Inside the I.R.S. Files of the Ultra-Wealthy
It’s an open secret that the uber-rich don’t pay their fair share in taxes. But Jesse Eisinger and his team at ProPublica have unearthed the numbers to back that up. In “The Secret I.R.S. Files,” they combed through more than 15 years of federal income tax records, revealing that Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, George Soros and many more have paid as little as $0 in recent years. By amassing and borrowing off their wealth, while minimizing how much of it is treated as income, these billionaires live outside the tax system perfectly legally. It’s on top of that, Eisinger explains, that the rich have built “their power, their purchasing power, their political power, their influence.” In this conversation, Kara Swisher gets a play by play of the investigation into the “secret IRS files.” Eisinger breaks down the investigative team’s decision to use an anonymous source and says whether he fears the Biden administration will loop ProPublica into an investigation into that source (in which case, he’d “raise bloody hell”). They discuss why the Biden administration’s efforts to increase the marginal tax rate from 37 percent to 39.6 percent is “irrelevant” for the ultrawealthy (or as Kara puts it, “using a fly swatter to kill a bear”). And they go through the billionaires’ responses to the investigation, including a question mark from Elon Musk, privacy concerns from Michael Bloomberg and confusion from Carl Icahn, who was “incredibly charming” but also “totally perplexed by the concept of needing to pay taxes.” You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more information for all episodes at nytimes.com/sway, and you can find Kara on Twitter @karaswisher.