Pulitzer Prize Winner Stresses Ethical Taxation
The fundamental starting point for democratic government began with taxation, said David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and former New York Times investigative journalist, during a speech to McCombs accounting students Sept. 24.
Johnston, who came to UT as part of the Lyceum Speaker Series, told students that the ideas about taxation and society that have prevailed since Ronald Reagan’s time favor a system in which money is systematically funneled from the poor to benefit the rich.
“People who think that taxes are a cost will do virtually anything to eliminate that cost,” Johnson said. “Taxes are not a cost. Taxes are a moral obligation.”
The ancient Athenians, he said, developed democracy by instilling a guiding moral principle in tax laws: that the greater the wealth one has built up, the greater their moral obligation to helping society continue.
Throughout Johnson’s more than 40-year career in journalism, he has broken stories exposing Donald Trump’s negative net worth and Enron’s failure to pay taxes.
“Investigative reporters are people who look at things and are not interested in them unless they’re not as they appear to be. It turns out most of the world is not at it appears to be,” Johnston said.
Among the several points Johnston discussed from his book, “Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill),” is how Wal-Mart gets property-tax breaks that allow it to price-out small businesses that have higher tax burdens.
“It’s indicative of something going on all across the country. It is a pattern in which we are imposing taxes on those with less to give money to those who have more.”
Johnston said that a lack of government oversight and questionable accounting practices has led to the recent Wall Street credit crisis and the collapse of some of the country’s largest and most venerable financial institutions.
“When you go out in the world, every one of you is going to be confronted by people who are going to want you to behave unethically,” Johnston said. “There is no job, there is no promotion, there is no paycheck that is worth your integrity.”