My project for 2011 is to start a political movement: Tax the Rich. That's it. One agenda, one plan, one three-word slogan. Tax. The. Rich. Simple, right?
Before you say that this would be OK with you except that you're planning to be rich, let's see you win the lottery or inherit big before we discuss it further. (I've had this conversation twice already.) In my opinion, the American Dream, known outside of the United States as wishful thinking, has a lot to do with the mess we find ourselves in.
I've got a rockin' logo for a blog, and one of these days, I'll have the time to figure out the vanity URL and get T-shirts printed, and off I go. But why would I bother? (Bone-lazy as I am, this question always arises.)
Basically, I was scandalized by the last election, during which so little of the attention of the electorate or the media seemed to be focused on anything that matters, including our pressing need for more revenue. We have a huge deficit and crumbling infrastructure, crappy schools, failing pension plans, legions of brain-injured veterans requiring painstaking rehabilitation, overflowing emergency rooms and not enough police, firefighters, etc. This is serious goddamn stuff.
So, we need more money in the public coffers. (Yes, we also need to administer that money better, but let's take one thing at a time.) How about we get it from the people and companies who have lots of it?
The thing about the rich is not just that they have tons of money (that's by definition); they have a rapidly increasing share of the money. If you don't want to take my word for it—and, as a citizen of a democracy, you shouldn't—see the Sept. 3, 2010, article on Slate by Timothy Noah, "The United States of Inequality" (at www.slate.com/id/2266025/entry/2266026). It's got more statistics than you can shake a stick at organized into killer graphics by Noah and Catherine Mulbrandon that make appallingly clear what's been going on with income share in the U.S. over the last century or so.
In broad strokes, what happened is that, largely thanks to good-old FDR and the national sobering-up initiated by the 1929 stock market crash, incomes in the U.S. became more equal during the Depression and stayed that way from about 1940 to 1973—the heyday of the American middle class—before they started becoming more unequal again. Since 1973, when the top 1 percent of the population had about 8 percent of all the money, their share has more than doubled: now the top 1 percent (those with an annual income of more than about $360,000) have about 18 percent of all the wealth in America. And without sweeping, determined, clear-eyed tax reform, there is no end in sight to the erosion of the American middle class and, with it, the destabilization of society and corruption of our institutions.
How did we get here? I recently heard that notorious leftie David Stockman, Reagan's budget director and the architect of Reaganomics, patiently explain in an interview on NPR that the rich have plenty of time and energy and lawyers and friends with which to subvert the tax code and manipulate public opinion (the death tax! Arrgghh!), while the average Joe is busy making a living (and, poor schlub that he is, paying his taxes). And until the middle class sees what is being done to it, the rich will continue to keep more and more of their money, and leave more of it to their heirs tax-free. Eventually, the country will be bankrupted (Stockman thinks it's likely) and become what the framers of the Constitution most abhorred: an aristocracy.
In an interesting recent development, some billionaires, led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, have been pledging to contribute half of their unimaginable fortunes to charity. (This is great, as long as the charities are legit.) But some billionaires reportedly object strongly to the whole project, in part because it calls attention to their existence. So many millionaires, so many billionaires, so many newly minted Daddy Warbucks-types, so many happy beneficiaries of the GOP's friendship. They apparently think focusing the attention of the public on them, however fleetingly, is bad for them. Let's hope it is.
Tell your senators (oh, wait, this is Arizona—never mind), tell your congressman, tell the president. Tell them often: Tax the rich.