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The Great American Tax Dodge: How Spiraling Fraud and Avoidance Are Killing Fairness, Destroying the Income Tax, and Costing You Hardcover – August 1, 2000

3.4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown; 1 edition (August 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316811351
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316811354
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,840,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Before I read the book, I had the (mistaken) belief that all income tax evaders had an equal chance of an IRS Audit. I now see that the IRS is set-up to audit citizens that can't afford lawyers--the book has good evidence for that, the kind you can find for yourself.
Unfortunately, the book isn't totally solid. It rightly points out that the current tax system is unfair for the un-wealthy, and I think the authors provide fairly good evidence that this unfairness is largely due to a congress that has created a behemoth tax code while simultaneously stripping the IRS of its ability to enforce it. Unfortunately, though, there were times that some claims went un-referenced (e.g., past tax code), which left me wondering about what was "factual."
The book is biased towards blaming the wealthy for lobbying congress while dumping billions into tax shelters (this bias, nonetheless, seems well supported), but the book isn't about wealth bashing--it is about the notion that in our country, to some extent, we are all our neighbor's helper, and to cheat taxes is morally incomprehensible and consequential. They point to the ills of society fostering an environment for cheaters of all kinds...from tax evaders to cheating college freshman, as evidence for the cheater's mentality. In this regard, the book has a pessimistic view of a human nature that always reduces itself to the "lowest common denominator" (i.e., if the wealthy cheat on taxes, why shouldn't I?). The authors pose good arguments against flat taxes and sales taxes, while supporting a progressive tax such as our current tax structure. They argue that the current tax code is too complicated and should be simplified. This complication is largely do to the history of special interest groups successfully lobbying for tax loopholes. Overall, I know more about taxes (and tax evasion) than I had before the book.
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Format: Hardcover
Barlett and Steel won two Pulitzer prices for journalism so you know their work is high quality. This book will offend some readers, especially the devious rich and the gray-area almost-crooks. But I hope it will anger the hard working stiffs in the middle class who still believe paying taxes is the price of having a good society. The authors make a convincing case that Congress does not care to make the system just or fair and that America is in danger of moving toward the Banana Republic and some-European-countries model where if you pay your taxes honestly you are considered a fool. How bad it has gotten can be seen in the case of our famous former president, who managed to leave his presidency in such a sleazy way. The book came out last fall and maybe Bubba read the pages on Marc Rich, who could be described as a crook and an enemy of America. But that didn't stop our president from granting him a pardon. Could a $450,000 donation to the Clinton library and some $150,000 donated to Hilary's senate campaign have anything to do with that? Of course not. I give this book five stars because it is well researched and well written, fascinating from beginning to end. See what a boon the Internet has become for tax cheats. See how venerable Swiss banks are only too happy to help you hide your undeclared income. See how Congress crippled the IRS. We now have the best government and representatives money can buy and nobody cares. Almost nobody. A man like Sen. McCain is a miracle, because he is one of the solutions. Read this book. It's terrific.
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By A Customer on September 3, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The major portion of the book confirms our suspicions of the massive tax avoidance and evasion that is extant in the U.S. today. I found much of the material to be revealing of the methodology used by rich and poor to escape the responsibility of paying ones dues.
The authors lost me in their attack on VAT ( National Sales Tax ) which has worked successfully in tne United Kingdom and in Canada. These countries are way ahead of us in Social Services. Any tax plan will have its defects, but this is one way to avoid the off shore plans, and the refusal to even submit the 1040 form.
The final chapter devoted to the authors' solution to the problem is a joke. If you take one suggestion after another it is clear that our economy will not tolerate their badly constructed cure. I think that they were just in a hurry to close out the book and had really ill considered, ( or no ), advice from seasoned economists. These two chapters left me with a feeling of let down and disappointment. I had hoped to find some well constructed answers to a pernicious problem. But they offered none.
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Format: Hardcover
While there are some short-comings with this book, the overall general idea rings true, and their evidence supports the claim. The book does not aim to be a fix-all for the numerous troubles that ail american democracy. Rather, it simply aims to expose yet another example of class preference in American society.
Like the legal system, the tax code works more to one's advantage the more money one has. That is the simple premise of the book - not government gridlock, not class jealousy, and certainly not socialism. The authors argue from the simple point of showing how wealthy individuals take great advantage of our tax code. And while it does suggest a certain conclusion, I would argue that it is common sense and logic that they use to arrive at the fact that this is but one more way the wealthy absolve themselves of any responsibility in society.
In the end, it is an informative read, but should not be taken by itself. It should be read in conjunction with other works on the tax code, gov't spending, and other problems that plague American society and allow the wealthy to keep distancing themselves, and avoid responsibility.
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