Interview with corporate tax-dodging expert Richard Eskow

This is the third interview of the seven I did this year at Netroots Nation. Here I speak with Richard (RJ) Eskow, a writer with a career that goes back to the founding days of the Huffington Post (as you’ll hear). He’s also a Senior Fellow at Campaign For America’s Future.

Richard has a unique place in our world. As a former IT person for AIG — the actual insurance company and not its scam-shop subsidiary in London — Richard is numbers-friendly and data-driven. His writing is clear, yet filled with excellent data analysis. The bio here gives a good sense of his breadth.

For example, I invite you to check out this piece, a Fourth of July exposé of tax-dodging by corporations — “13 facts about tax-dodging corporations that will blow your mind“. Reading it you’ll learn this, for example (my emphasis):

1. We’re told we can’t “afford” full Social Security benefits, even though closing corporate tax-haven loopholes would pay for Obama’s “chained CPI” benefit cut more than 10 times over!

Abusive offshore tax havens cost the U.S. $150 billion in lost tax revenue every year (via FACT Coalition). That’s $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years.

The “chained CPI” cut, proposed by President Obama and supported by Republicans, is projected to “save” a total of $122 billion to $130 billion over the same time period by denying benefits to seniors and disabled people.

It’s true. “Serious” politicians and pundits are demanding that ordinary people sacrifice earned benefits, while at the same time allowing corporations to avoid more than 10 times as much in taxes.

That’s using data analysis to great effect and great framing. In essence, over the next 10 years:

Closing offshore tax havens — Gains $1.5 trillion of their money
Chained CPI — Gains $130 billion of your money
Pick one.

Ask any voter the question that way, and you’ll never see a pro-corporate (pro-CEO, pro-billionaire) answer. The whole piece is filled with these well-researched goodies.

I spoke with Richard in the pre-coffee morning of one of the final days of the conference. We found an empty hallway in one of the hotels and had an excellent chat. You’ll hear the pre-coffee in my voice — I generally have a morning voice and a rest-of-the-day voice — and you’ll hear the bright echo-y sound of that empty hallway, with its hard walls and large windows. Good place for a chat though.

Five Questions with Richard Eskow

As I mentioned above, Eskow is a data person, but he also has a systems-analysis mind, which means he also sees the big picture. Put the two together and you have someone who is led to big-picture analysis by looking at the facts themselves. This comes out in the interview.

Writer Richard (RJ) Eskow

Writer Richard (RJ) Eskow

I began by asking him the same first three questions I asked everyone this year — Is the U.S. approaching deadlines? Which deadlines will hit first? How will climate play out in the next few years? — and like every other interviewee, he mentioned climate before I did.

But note especially (at 10:15 in the interview) the answers to my fourth and fifth questions — about his personal journey to his current career (it’s fascinating; quite similar in some ways to Dave Johnson‘s) — and also about his intellectual journey, how his analysis has changed. Eskow, like many, has come to a “Chomsky-esque” view of our political and economic system, but he came to it differently than many, by simply viewing the data.

The discussion is fascinating. Listen:

The somewhat abrupt ending is a function of editing to remove bad sound at the very end of the tape. The article Eskow mentioned in the interview, “Bigger,” can be found here.

On optimism and the future (at 2:40):

“We have to make a Pascal’s wager with the future. … Even if the odds are against us, we have to act as if we can change them and turn them around, and that gives our lives meaning and purpose, and we have a shot at succeeding.”

And near the end, after noting that Hillary Clinton’s people attacked him in 2008 for criticizing their denigration of the optimism of the Obama voters:

“The great battle of our time is against the culture of cynicism, the culture of learned helplessness … [Being cynical and acting helpless] is essentially what we’re being told to do, by Clintons, by Obamas, by Republicans … Who says we can’t expand Social Security? … Who says? … The rules of the game as they define it are wrong.”

Like me, he fears the approaching deadlines — he calls them “cascading processes” and a “black hole” whose event horizon we’re clearly approaching. The banking system especially concerns him, as does climate. But as he notes, most of these problems are interconnected. I couldn’t agree more.

All Five Questions interviews

Here’s the complete list of this year’s Five Questions interviews. These will be published over the next few weeks in this order:

■ Sam Seder of
■ Dave Johnson of Campaign for America’s Future and
■ Richard (RJ) Eskow of Campaign for America’s Future and Huffington Post (this interview)
■ digby of Hullabaloo
■ Marcy Wheeler of
■ Joel Silbermanactor and media trainer — almost every good congressperson on our side, Joel has worked with them
GottaLaff, actress, writer, director and co-proprietress of

I’ll update this list with links as the interviews are published. Thanks for listening.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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