The “1 Percent” Exodus

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James Cameron, director of mega-hits such as Titanic and Avatar, is moving to New Zealand. His plans were revealed late last week when New Zealand’s Overseas Investment Office showed Cameron was granted permission to purchase two separate properties, totaling 2,634 acres, in a region called Wairarapa, northwest of Wellington. “I grew up working on my grandfather’s farm in Canada and my wife Suzy’s family own a farm in Oklahoma,” said Cameron. “We want to raise our kids with the values we had when we were growing up, close to the land and with a strong work ethic.” Some posit the director’s departure “fits the trend of wealthy Americans pulling their money out of the country and reinvesting it to buy land in the southern hemisphere, escaping spiraling tax rates and protecting themselves against the potential for widespread social dislocation.” Is such an assessment a conspiracy theory, or is there any truth to it?

Certainly, there is an ominous sound to the fact that, according to the INS/Census Bureau & Zogby International, the top one percent of U.S. taxpayers are leaving at the highest rate in history. But the numbers relative to the general population are fairly small. The troubling element here? The trend is straight upward. According to an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) report, from 2008 through the first quarter of 2011, the number of people who have given up their citizenship, or terminated their long-term, permanent residency status has increased nearly nine-fold. Quarterly averages in 2008 and 2009 were 58 and 186, respectively. In 2010 the average jumped to 384 per quarter, and in the first quarter of 2011, 499 ex-pats bid America a permanent adios.

Why are they leaving? The IRS offers no explanation, but lawyers who specialize in helping people re-locate have two prevailing theories. Theory number one is taxes. “I think this is coming to the forefront because of offshore reporting and banker reporting issues,” said Peter Connors, a tax attorney in New York. “There is a price to being a citizen of the U.S. and at a certain point the price may not be worth it.” This likely reflects the efforts of a three-year push by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to target wealthy Americans who avoid taxes by keeping their money out of the country. Last July, three Swiss bankers and an executive were indicted on conspiracy charges. The theory behind such indictments is to go after those who facilitate alleged tax cheating, as opposed to just the cheaters themselves. Apparently it’s working. As of September 2011, the IRS had collected nearly $3 billion in taxes, interest and penalties from 30,000 taxpayers.

Currently, a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (“FBARs”) must be filed by any U.S. person who has a “financial interest” in, or “signature authority” over, any “financial account” in a foreign country, if the aggregate value of the account or accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year. Penalties for failing to file an FBAR can be severe: as much as $10,000 for each violation, and the greater of $100,000 or 50 percent of the balance of the account for “willful violations.” Furthermore, America is the only industrialized country that requires citizens to pay income tax on offshore earnings.

Yet there may be unintended consequences. After Reuters ran a story on the subject, they were contacted by several people “with tales of woe,” claiming IRS penalties for failing to file paperwork are “drastically out of proportion” to the amount of taxes owed. For example, Marvin Van Horn, a 62-year-old U.S. citizen and permanent resident of New Zealand, first heard of the requirement in 2009 during a visit to the States. Despite owing less than $20,000 on six years of back taxes, he was looking at penalties totaling $172,000. After 26 months of offers and counter-offers, the penalties were reduced to single “non-willful” FBAR penalty of $25,000. “Why the hell couldn’t the IRS devise a method to separate the minnows from the whales at the beginning of the process?” asked Van Horn.

He won’t be the only one asking. Five to six million Americans living abroad, along with 39 million immigrants in the U.S., should theoretically be filing an FBAR. Yet in 2009, only 534,043 were filed, according to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. “They built the program for criminals, and they just can’t figure out how to deal with all these innocents who’ve been caught up in it,” says Mark Matthews, a tax partner at Morgan Lewis & Bockius in Washington, D.C, and former top IRS official.

Unsurprisingly, some of those who spoke to the newspaper said they were considering expatriation as soon as they got their tax affairs in order.

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  • crackerjack

    If "…. successful Americans…" wealth is already parked in Switzerland, Caymen or Bermuda, what economic difference does it make to the US where they chose to make their home, be it Togo or New Zealand ?

    • 11bravo

      It is getting to the point with Obamas destructive policies that taking ALL offshore profits will not save us even if it is a trillion-we will rip through that in one budget year and the budget will still not be balanced. It is pathetic.

      • http://imataxpayertoo.wordpress.com kathy

        It's all in the Obama plan…collapse the system.

    • EccoLa

      Hey, crackerjack, perhaps you should change your name to "economic illiterate". It would be more fitting. LOL!!

    • mlcblog

      They are the engine that drives the train. The creators of wealth, the idea people, and the risk takers. They launch enterprises while the rest of us continue in our every-day ruts.

      • crackerjack

        Nonsense. Their assets are in Switzerland, Caymen and Bermuda while the taxpayer serves as default. The risk in this system is carried by the employee and mortgage payer.

  • Amused

    Good riddance ! Go live where you put your money …..maybe Romney will move to the Caymans , there's thousands of phony "Company Headquarters" there [empty offices with a mail slot ] ….he'd fit right in .

    • kafir4life

      If the taxpayers move out, who will pay for your meth?

      • Uncle Pennybags

        People who hold funds in offshore account do not pay taxes on those funds. As a wealthy US citizen I can assure you we pay far less in taxes then you do. And we have you to tow the line for us. Last year the US government paid me $9000, that is $0 in taxes paid and a $9000 tax refund. It only cost me $5400 to pay my team of accountants to make it happen legally and I was able to keep $3600 for myself. It is really quite simple.

        We, the wealthy of this country, really do get an unfair deal in our favor. Of course we wont stop as long as it is legal to do so.

        • 11bravo

          Flat tax!!! Takes that ability away from you…and the ability of politicians to give it to you. That is why it will never pass-ever!

      • Amused

        I'm not a druggie dumbasss , worked hard for 50 of my 62 years ,l paid taxes , paid my dues , and had real jobs , the kind that callous the hands and not the butt , like any job you may have had . Dont like taxes neither , but would never consider leaving this land , and anyone who does for that reason only ? Let 'em get the hell out , and fast . You can carry their bags schmuck .

    • ChrisNichols

      Still too stupid to understand that the government creates the conditions where people don't want to invest their money here. Also, still too stupid to understand that it's their money to begin with and that this country was founded on the principle that you should be able to work for yourself and not the government. Still to stupid to understand that the people you vote for are killing your gravy train. Still too to stupid to understand that wealth has to be created, and not spread around.

      • Amused

        You can get a room ith kafir4life , and follow any other asssholes who think the same way . Dont wanna pay taxes , get the hell out yourself , maybe Syria or Iran ?

        • ChrisNichols

          Now come one you disingenuous little liar, nobody said no taxes, did they? Of course they didn't. What we have said, have always said, is that government should pay for the things they are constitutionally obliged to pay for and nothing more. Also, maybe hold themselves to the same accounting principles they force others to comply with. Now, if you don't know what they are supposed to spend money, start with the U.S. Constitution, Article I section 8. In the past, you have demonstrated poor reading comprehension skills, so maybe you could have someone read it for you.

    • EccoLa

      Amused decided to jump in and keep Crackerjack company. Aren't you guys embarrassed to reveal your astonishing ignorance of economics (or even basic mathematics) while purporting to discuss public policy issues? Geez, was losers….

      • Amused

        Hey ECOLI why dont you look at the tax rates , down through the years , if these greedy f-cks wanna leave to avoid taxes , i say let'em gopod riddance , and you too can carry their bags to the airport . Maybe even hop a flight with'em , there are too many asssholes like you here anyway , one less is a good thing .

        • Amused

          I may even be tempted to chip in for your one way ticket .

          • ChrisNichols

            Exit question for you whizz kid, how does giving more money to an entity that produces nothing, not a supply or a demand, create jobs, wealth and prosperity? Show your work.

  • Rocky Mountain

    It could be a number of reasons in Cameron's case. For sure, he probably just really likes New Zealand and from pictures that I've seen. who wouldn't? But I don't see it as traitorous or anything like that to want to protect your own if you think conditions are bad and could get worse. After all, there's very little that any individual could actually do to turn things around

    • MirrorKrys

      Agreed, however he is a typical big gov't liberal wanting everyone to pay more taxes and yet he leaves. To me that is the height of arrogance. Do as I say not as I do.

  • kafir4life

    If you walked down the same street every day and was mugged every time, don't you think you'd find a new street to walk down?

  • Brujo Blanco

    The current administration has more than implied a threat to take from the haves and give all go the have nots. Why would these people do what they do to protect their assets? Also, there is the possibility of being imprisoned by the government. This is the path that Communists have taken in other countries. If we would return to the US Constitution we would not have to guess about the future.

  • jacob

    What I find interesting, is that no politician, from the White House tennant to GOP's
    keep on speaking about jobs, jobs, jobs but nobody dares mentioning, (save for
    the DONALD and then again, he is not one of them) that jobs are contingent upon
    stopping everything being made in CHINA, to the extent that it won't take long for
    our babies not to come from PARIS as we were led to believe as children but
    from BEIJING, for GOD's sake …! ! ! !

    Is there anything to wonder why upper taxpaying people are leaving good old USA?
    The ANNOITED ONE wants to turn USA into European socialism and rest assured
    if reelected , this is what is goi ng to happen…

  • 11bravo

    The economic future cited in the article are all due to Marxist policies that Obama promotes. Mitt is going to have to clearly articulate that the current and projected financial mess is due to said Marxist policies and our Prez. Going into 2015 with the numbers means 7 yrs and Obama can't get it right. Just like FDR, the socialist experiments ALL fail evertime-with out exception.

  • jacob

    Seems yiu don't like my repeating SEAN HANNITY's name for President Obama
    as the ANNOITED ONE…
    Have it your way

  • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

    When James Cameron isn't polishing his Humvee fire engine, he's telling Americans – from his sprawling compound – that they need to live on far fewer resources. So now he is fleeing to a country with lower taxes and fewer rights. Good riddance. It's not an indictment of America. It's an indictment of him.

    • pagegl

      It's really an indictment of the idiot policies of the leftist grow-the-government types. And, to some extent, you are correct because Cameron along with lots of wealthy leftists have been clammering for exactly what is happening. Now, they are realizing the cost of their stupidity and fleeing.

      • Questions

        Name me these "Leftist" movies by Cameron. "Avatar" could be interpreted as a defense of one's native land. "True Lies?" That was one of the films Bob Dole said he LIKES. The first two "Terminator" flicks? I don't think so. "The Abyss?" "Titanic?" "Aliens?" Gimme a break. This cottage industry of ferreting out "Leftists" in Hollywood is getting sort of tedious by now.

        • ChrisNichols

          I have a question for you, can you read? The previous two posts didn't name his movies by name, you did. They pointed out his hypocritical lifestyle, how he panders to leftist causes. He agitates against producing oil from shale and tar sands which would produce energy and create jobs and wealth in his home country of Canada because he feels it would displace the native Canadians (again, think Avatar). Yet, he lives in Malibu on a huge carbon spouting estate and now is going to buy 2600 acres down in New Zealand, which was probably taken from the Maoris. He doesn't have a problem with that though.

        • glpage

          Tell me where I said anything about his movies, you maroon. Is there a serious reading comprehension issue with leftists?

  • Spider

    Why isn't DOJ going after the Kennedy family? They have parked hundreds of millions of dollars in tax free overseas trusts for 6 decades. Oh that's right they are Democrat elitists – only the rest of us should pay taxes so they can buy votes and bribe us with our own money. Joe Kennedy the partiarch of the family earned most of their money the old fashioned way – by getting tax free income by boot-legging during prohibition and selling war goods to Stalin.

    • bandt

      also good ole joe kennedy was ambassador to England and was relieved of his duty there because he thought Hitler was great….

  • tanstaafl

    It's the Golden Rule – he who has the gold, makes the rules.

  • flyingtiger

    You will note that Cameron did not go back to his native Canada. There is plenty of cheap farmland there. Is it the taxes or the violent moslem immigrants?

  • Zena

    Good riddance you say? Who will pay for all the things the moochers are now squeezing off the rich? Tsk tsk, be careful what you wish for suckers.

    • Jim_C

      What "moochers" are those? The ones in your mind, or do you actually have a figure and a demographic in mind?

      • jerome

        What "moochers" are those? …………the ones who are housed, feed, clothed without working

  • Jim_C

    Adios, muchachos!

  • 7BOSCO

    Lately, I've been Googling "Islands for sale."…look for the word "Freehold" when doing so.

  • glpage

    So, if all the 1 percenters are heading to other lands, are the Occupy whatever loons going to follow to keep their protest going? If so, there might be a bit of a silver lining to the 1 percent bailing.

  • Amused

    To all those who would leave this great country for monetary reasons and all their sycophant sympathizers , I say A.M.F. dont let the door hit in the arse on the way out . Iyt's only right , if you put your money offshore ….then go follow it offshore . bye bye

    • kafir4life

      Are you aware of the "exit tax"? Yep!!! an "exit tax"! The mob is easier to deal with, and less costly!

  • Amused

    It'll be a better place without SELLOUTS .

  • Tazzie Devil

    There are Cameron clans here in Tasmania too, he’s welcome to fly past Kiwi land, and also bring his money. Our local state Labor Government could use his money (taxes) too. Having the same socialist ideals, he’d feel right at home. Moral of the story is, that the grass is NOT greener at the antipodes.

  • PETER

    A few years ago, some of the very wealty in France pulled up stakes and left because of surtaxes on the wealthy. In a few cases, it was over 100%. Some Frenchmen called them "unpatriotic" and said things like "good riddance." I see some here think patriotism or love of country should require some not only to pay taxes from earnings, but also from savings Some thousands of years ago societies sacraficed their young by killing them on the altars of their gods. Everyone has a god. Democrats call their god Government. They ask us to sacrafice the financial lives of our children on the altar of that god.

  • ichbinarizonan

    Mr. Left Winger doesn't want to pay the taxes his buddy, Obama is pushing. My how odd. I guess the Buffetts, Simmons and Camerons of the 'please tax me more, mr president' isn't quite what they actually want to do. Go figure…..

  • deanr

    blurp, splip, blap. Zing Zow, and an echo>

  • Alex

    As a New Zealander, i am wondering why Cameron didn't simply go back to live in Canada? It's obivously much closer to Hollywood than nz. Could it be that Canada, due to it's suicidal immigration policy, (just like America's), is fast turning into a third world nation?

  • snap_e_tom

    Oh good, I was hoping for blog about this, just so I could comment: "Don't let the door hit you in the…"