It's often said there's nothing certain in life except death and taxes. According to two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalists Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, however, the latter part of that adage is now decidedly in dispute. The Great American Tax Dodge
, the pair's latest examination of U.S. systems gone awry, spells out exactly how massive tax fraud is currently costing the nation enough to provide health care for its 44 million uninsured citizens--and precisely why the problem will continue to grow at virtually all economic levels unless remedial measures are immediately employed. In their fully detailed but always readable style, Barlett and Steele authoritatively discuss multimillionaires who never file tax returns, Internet sites that can link anyone to shady tax havens, the use of "phantom children" and "invisible employees" to illegitimately shelter income, and evasive techniques like offshore accounts and holding companies that illegally keep money from reaching the government agencies to which it is owed. But the problem cannot exclusively be blamed on those individuals who choose to shirk their civic responsibility, the authors note. Congress, which regularly looks the other way, and the IRS itself, which consistently fails to enforce its own rules, also share much of the blame. Packed with specific examples and unsettling particulars, the book will frustrate everyone who dutifully files a tax return each April and expects their fellow Americans to do the same. Fortunately, it also includes a simple yet plausible proposal for turning the situation around. --Howard Rothman
From Publishers Weekly
A hard-hitting expose of perceived gross inequities in the U.S. tax system and of the current epidemic of tax fraud, this often shocking report could prove to be a bestseller, as was the authors' America: What Went Wrong?, published in 1992. Every year, more than 10 million Americans (by the government's own conservative estimate) fail to file federal tax returns and, consequently, honest taxpayers shell out $300 billion to cover what the delinquents owed. The culprit, in the view of Time Inc. writers-at-large Barlett and Steele (two-time Pulitzer winners), is not the IRS per se, though they blast its selective prosecution tactics, archaic computer system and absence of internal oversight. Rather, the fault, they insist, lies with a series of Republican and Democratic presidents and Congresses who, they say, have rewritten the tax laws to favor the privileged; Barlett and Steele present abundant evidence that the IRS stalks small-time tax cases while ignoring or going light on upper-income dodgers. Equally disturbing is their account of how the Internet is rapidly becoming the lead instrument promoting tax avoidance, as countless peopleDnot just the richDset up secret offshore bank accounts, trusts or dummy corporations to hide their assets with the click of a mouse. Barlett and Steele deride current flat-tax proposals as ploys to give a big tax cut to the wealthy at the expense of the less well off. They likewise reject a proposed national sales tax as equally onerous. Their solution: a massive rewrite and simplification of the existing progressive tax structure, elimination of special-interest provisions, and vigorous enforcement. This important, incendiary book may spark a national debate. 5-city author tour. Agent, Andrew Wylie. (Sept.)
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