Data Visualization: Recontextualizing Wealth and Taxes

Taken from “The Secret IRS Files: Trove of Never-Before-Seen Records Reveal How the Wealthiest Avoid Income Tax” by Jesse Eisinger, Jeff Ernsthausen and Paul Kiel (Pro Publica, June 8, 2021).

This story from Pro Publica may be one of the most important pieces of journalism done this decade. So much of the discourse around the growing wealth gap in the U.S. is entirely circular. The conversation often reaches a dead stop because it’s so difficult to visualize the immense disparity. The arguments, “I don’t want to be taxed more,” or “it’s their money, they earned it,” seem like a one-sided dead stop to the conversation. Not only does the Pro Publica story make the gap physically visible, but it entirely recontextualizes and redefines what it is we’re looking at. But developing an entirely new term, “true tax rate,” and backing it up with empirical and never-before accessible information, Pro Publica used data to push the discourse through what were previously dead stopping points for many. The ultra-wealthy operate in an entirely different financial system that isn’t just rigged in theory, but in the writing of our tax codes.

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