Game-making platform and fledgling metaverse Roblox made the news yesterday as the focus of a New York Times report about a ‘90s era tax cut that’s spun out of control. Originally created to foster investment in small businesses, the Qualified Small Business Stock, or Q.S.B.S., exemption has transformed into a way for ultra-wealthy businesses to avoid paying taxes on huge amounts of profits.
I’d say it seemed like a good idea at the time, but it really wasn’t. Launched in 1993, the Qualified Small Business Stock exemption was presented as a means to get more people investing in start-ups by shielding some of a company’s profits from taxation. Originally the exemption meant an investor would be shielded from paying taxes on half of profits up to 10 million dollars, but that was eventually changed to exempt the entire 10 million
the U.S. tax system for voting into being a loophole-laden exemption that would eventually be so abused that participating in it would be considered a right-of-passage for Silicon Valley’s ultra-wealthy. The problem with the Q.S.B.S. exemption is that it can be cloned. All it takes is gifting stock to friends and family. Though they haven’t invested in the company, they nevertheless still qualify for the exemption, so you can ensure that large chunks of money stay within close orbit of your control without needing to pay taxes on said cash.
According to financial reports and the New York Times’ sources, Roblox founder David Baszucki has been able to multiply the exemption 12 times over, gifting stock to his wife, his four children, and various other relatives. In the fall of 2020, months before Roblox went public, Baszucki’s mother-in-law started giving away shares to relatives. Since they were gifted, those shares also qualified for the exemption. In March of 2021, Roblox went public, valued at 45 billion.
While this all sounds horrible and super-cheaty, there’s nothing at all illegal about this practice. It has a name, stacking, but is also known as peanut-buttering