If the economic collapse of the last year-plus has given us anything, it’s a crazed and broken discourse, tragically unserious meta-politics, soaring unemployment and crashing faith in the idea of virtuous citizenship. Which, you know, thanks a lot for that. But if it has given us anything else, the economic collapse has provided bleak proof that those of us who felt like we kind of didn’t get it weren’t actually missing anything about the mega-rich solons of the now-smoldering old economy.
Those idiots turning the Lower East Side of Manhattan into a shrieking frat-bumout? Actually idiots, and as bad at their jobs as they were at not-ruining bars. Big-time real estate douches leveling neighborhoods, gobbling up tax breaks and raising identikit glass-dildo condos? Currently broke, towers in foreclosure. Those sage billionaire CEOs with their vague positivism and savvy-rich-dude ebullience? Yeah, they didn’t necessarily know what they were talking about either. What kind of smelled bad but seemed to be working turned out to be both more rotten than we could’ve imagined and totally defective, and those inexplicable millionaires held up as heroes of capital — and who will be again, as long as we labor under the belief that millionaires create jobs, as opposed to the other way around — turned out to be every bit as feckless and crass and venal and deeply mediocre as we could’ve imagined. The economic collapse gave us that, but I’m still not sure these months of disillusionment prepared us for just how terrible Frank and Jamie McCourt — the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers (and LA real estate magnate) and his soon-to-be-ex-wife (above) — actually are. I don’t know that anything could have.
The venality and childishness of their split and the implausible extravagance of their life together has been covered both here and in the less widely read Los Angeles Times — the $600k in salaries paid out to McCourt kids with other full-time gigs, the former Mrs. McCourt’s request for nearly a million dollars a month in spousal support, and so barfily on. In the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik reveals the unsurprising (if still kind of nauseating) fact that the McCourts paid a grand total of zero dollars in state and federal income taxes on their $108 million in income between 2004 and ’09. The secret of their success: creative use of depreciation and refinancing on their assets, very good lawyers, the ability to take Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones’ terrible contracts as tax write-offs, and just generally being pretty awful people:
The tax benefits reaped by the McCourts helped turbocharge their lifestyle. There are eight houses, including four in Holmby Hills and Malibu. The McCourts treated their family and business checkbooks as “largely one and the same,” according to an e-mail from a McCourt executive Jamie filed in court. (Oddly, the e-mail ascribes to her the philosophy of “why have a family business but to support the family lifestyle.”)
…The point is not to begrudge the McCourts these luxuries. The point is to question why we as taxpayers should subsidize them. Jamie asserts that, although the state of Massachusetts is auditing the couple’s personal returns for 2006 (they used to be based in the Bay State), neither California nor the Internal Revenue Service is doing so. This raises another question: Why not?
Can we as taxpayers be confident we aren’t paying more than our fair share? Jamie alleges that for the purposes of the divorce, Frank has manipulated the business accounts to make himself look $670 million poorer than he is. Delivering fake numbers to the IRS is a rather different matter from delivering them to your spouse in a divorce action, but the McCourts structured their business as a stew with a lot of complicated ingredients, which makes it hard to verify that all the tax breaks are fully warranted.
…”Only the little people pay taxes,” [Leona Helmsley] reportedly told a maid. The lesson of the McCourts is slightly different: The little people pay taxes for the big people.
I’ve never been divorced and I’ve never been rich, so maybe I’m lacking some perspective on this. But I’m inspired, queasily, to tip my hat to the enduring Republican rhetorical tack of painting America’s richest people as an oppressed minority beset on all sides by ACORN and ponytailed left-wing college profs and union laborers demanding health care. I don’t know how the hell that works, but I see it surviving even the McCourts, somehow.