Found money

by YES! Staff

For anyone who doesn’t believe change on an international scale is underway right now, consider the case of the Swiss: makers of ingenious army knives and cheese with holes, purveyors of the oldest secret banking system in the world — and also admitted accomplices in schemes to defraud the US government. UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, came clean last month, admitting that between 2000 and 2007 some of its employees had “participated in a scheme to defraud the United States” out of income tax dollars and coughing up $780 million in reparations. This came after the Internal Revenue Service came calling with subpoenas and an estimate that UBS helped US citizens avoid paying taxes to the tune of $300 million a year since 2000. That’s about $2.7 billion, which these days doesn’t sound like all that much money. Now the IRS is ratcheting up the pressure, requesting from UBS the account information of 52,000 Americans suspected of hiding money there. And they are offering amnesty of a sort for any citizen who is currently defrauding the federal government out of its mandated due.

This is remarkable because Swiss banking laws date back to 1713, protecting depositors with what it labels “financial asylum,” a fancy way to describe the hiding of money. It appears as if we are starting to get serious about income tax evasion — kind of late in the game, if you ask us, but we couldn’t agree more with the sentiment or the timing. Most Americans don’t have much choice in the matter of paying taxes because they come directly out of our paychecks, often more than is actually due on our earnings, an odd arrangement whereby many of us actually lend money to the federal government and get it back, sans interest, at some point in the spring. That’s a subject for another editorial. Small businesses, too, exist generally at the mercy of the IRS. Defined as businesses with assets of less than $5 million, small businesses account for nearly half of all revenue the IRS collects. And they are audited with more frequency than their larger counterparts, largely for two reasons: They make more mistakes on their returns, and their returns are easier to audit. So it is reassuring for us to see those holding the most chips will be held as accountable as we in lower tax brackets have always been. We see the paying of taxes as a non-partisan issue. None of us take pleasure in kicking in to make sure we have armed forces, interstate highways, schools and a social safety net. But to do otherwise is not only illegal, but immoral as well, akin to stowing away aboard a luxury liner while sleeping in the finest stateroom and dining at the captain’s table. It’s too bad it took an international financial meltdown to make sure everybody paid his fair share, but there you have it.

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