Having completed his tour of the United States to assess the issues of extreme poverty and human rights, United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston released his final report December 15. Within its pages, Alston laments the direction Republicans have moved with the passage of their tax bill.
My visit coincides with a dramatic change of direction in US policies relating to inequality and extreme poverty. The proposed tax reform package stakes out America’s bid to become the most unequal society in the world, and will greatly increase the already high levels of wealth and income inequality between the richest 1% and the poorest 50% of Americans. The dramatic cuts in welfare, foreshadowed by the President and Speaker Ryan, and already beginning to be implemented by the administration, will essentially shred crucial dimensions of a safety net that is already full of holes. It is against this background that my report is presented.
Alston also discusses what he discovered as underlying factors in how many lawmakers approach the ideas of tax and welfare reform, revealing disparities in how the rich and poor are viewed altogether:
In that context immense faith is placed in the goodwill and altruism of the corporate beneficiaries, while with welfare reform the opposite assumptions apply. The poor are inherently lazy, dishonest, and care only about their own interests. And government officials with whom I met insisted that the states are gaming the system to defraud the federal government, individuals are constantly coming up with new lurks to live high on the welfare hog, and community groups are exaggerating the numbers. The reality, of course, is that there are good and bad corporate actors and there are good and bad welfare claimants. But while funding for the IRS to audit wealthy taxpayers has been reduced, efforts to identify welfare fraud are being greatly intensified.
Alston's conclusion on the tax plan's overall effect?
While most other nations, and all of the major international institutions such as the OECD, the World Bank, and the IMF have acknowledged that extreme inequalities in wealth and income are economically inefficient and socially damaging, the tax reform package is essentially a bid to make the US the world champion of extreme inequality.