The children of Sam Walton, founder of the Walmart empire, are among the richest people in the world. Walmart is notorious for paying its workers poorly and treating them badly. As this article from Bloomberg shows, they use every trick in the book to prevent paying taxes so that they keep as much of their money as possible. What seems like generous gifts to charity are in fact tax dodges.
America’s richest family, worth more than $100 billion, has exploited a variety of legal loopholes to avoid the estate tax, according to court records and Internal Revenue Service filings obtained through public-records requests. The Waltons’ example highlights how billionaires deftly bypass a tax intended to make sure that the nation’s wealthiest contribute their share to government rather than perpetuate dynastic wealth, a notion of fairness voiced by supporters of the estate tax like Warren Buffett and William Gates Sr.
Alice Walton’s mother and brother poured more than $9 billion into trusts since 2003 that fund charitable projects like Crystal Bridges and are also designed to protect gifts to heirs from taxation. Another Walton pioneered a tax-avoidance maneuver that is now widely used by U.S. billionaires.
“I hate to say it, but the very rich pay very little in gift and estate tax,” said Jerome Hesch, a lawyer at Berger Singerman LLP in Miami who reviewed some of the Walton family’s trust filings for Bloomberg. “At the Waltons’ numbers, the savings are unbelievable.”
The article describes how the very wealthy use trusts and other devices to avoid paying taxes. This is part of the reason that the US now has one of the lowest levels of class mobility in the western hemisphere, lower than most of the Latin American countries that used to be poster children for oligarchies. The US now has an oligarchy that is similar to the landed gentry in feudal times, where wealth is inherited rather than earned.
One has to read the full article to appreciate all the ways that the wealthy have managed to get the tax laws written in their favor.