Who Profits From Killing Pluto?
By Janet D. Stemwedel
April 1, 2012
You may recall (as I and my offspring do) the
controversy about six years ago around the demotion of
Pluto. There seemed to me to be reasonable arguments on
both sides, and indeed, my household included pro-Pluto
partisans and partisans for a new, clear definition of
"planet" that might end up leaving Pluto on the exo-
planet side of the line.
At the time, Neil deGrasse Tyson was probably the most
recognizable advocate of the anti-Pluto position, and
since then he has not been shy about reaffirming his
position. I had taken this vocal (even gleeful) advocacy
as just an instance of a scientist working to do
effective public outreach, but recently, I've been made
aware of reasons to believe that there may be more going
on with Neil deGrasse Tyson here.
You may be familiar with the phenomenon of offshore
banking, which involves depositors stashing their assets
in bank accounts in countries with much lower taxes than
the jurisdictions in which the depositors actually
reside. Indeed, residents of the U.S. have occasionally
used offshore bank accounts (and bank secrecy policies)
to hide their money from the prying (and tax-assessing)
eyes of the Internal Revenue Service.
Officially, those who are subject to U.S. income tax are
required to declare any offshore bank accounts they
might have. However, since the offshore banks themselves
have generally not been required by law to report
interest income on their accounts to the U.S. tax
authorities, lots of account holders have kept mum about
Recently, however, the U.S. government has been more
vigorous in its efforts to track down this taxable
offshore income, and has put more pressure on the
offshore bankers not to aid their depositors in hiding
assets. International pressure seems to be pushing banks
in the direction of more transparency and
What does any of this have to do with Neil deGrasse
Tyson, or with Pluto?
You may recall, back when the International Astronomical
Union (IAU) was formally considering the question of
Pluto's status, that Neil deGrasse Tyson was a vocal
proponent of demoting Pluto from planethood. Despite his
position at the Hayden Planetarium, a position in which
he had rather more contact with school children and
other interested non-scientists making heartfelt
arguments in support of Pluto's planethood, Neil
deGrasse Tyson was utterly unmoved.
Steely in his determination to get Pluto reclassified.
And forward looking. Add to that remarkably well-dressed
(seriously, have you seen his vests?) for a Ph.D.
astrophysicist who has spent most of his career working
The only way it makes sense is if Neil deGrasse Tyson
has been stashing money someplace it can earn interest
without being taxed. Given his connections, this can
only mean off-world banking.
But again, what does this have to do with Pluto?
Pluto killer though he may be, Neil deGrasse Tyson is
law abiding. There have so far been no legal
requirements to report interest income earned in banks
on other planets. But Neil deGrasse Tyson, as a forward
looking kind of guy, undoubtedly recognizes that
regulators are rapidly moving in the direction of
requiring those subject to U.S. income tax to declare
their bank accounts on other planets.
The regulators, however, seem uninterested in making any
such requirements for those with assets in off-world
banks that are not on planets. Which means that while
Pluto is less than 1/5 the mass of Earth's Moon, as a
non-planet, it will remain a convenient place for Neil
deGrasse Tyson to benefit from compound interest without
increasing his tax liability.
It kind of casts his stance on Pluto in a different
light, doesn't it?
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