Dozens of activists, organizers, elected officials, and ultra-wealthy individuals came together in Washington, D.C. last week around a simple theme: it’s time to tax rich people. The gathering was put together by the Patriotic Millionaires, a group of proud “traitors to their class,” committed to breaking up the concentration of wealth and power in the United States.
The conference featured many of these millionaires sharing notes on a similar theme. They had made their money through a combination of hard work and public institutions that helped them every step of the way. Now, they want to make sure these institutions, like the debt-free higher education that many consider pivotal to their success, will be available to future generations – and are rightly concerned that they won’t be. The solution, they all agree, is to restore historically high taxes on people like themselves.
Patriotic Millionaires board chair Morris Pearl wanted the crowd to know he wasn’t there out of altruism. “I’m a greedy millionaire” he said. “But I’m greedy for the country I grew up in. Social mobility. Debt free college. A place where you could be born to a family without a lot of money and get ahead.”
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) echoed these sentiments, sharing his own story of humble beginnings in a middle-class family led by his father who worked as a mechanic. They were able to live comfortably on a single income from a person who did not have a college degree. That life would nearly impossible today, he said.
Inequality.org co-editors Chuck Collins and Sarah Anderson were on hand to explain just exactly how we might go about taxing the very rich. Sarah presented on “taxing the gap,” a proposal to levy taxes on companies that they their executives exorbitant sums compared to their average workers. McDonalds, she shared, paid their CEO 5,000 times more than they paid their average worker.
Chuck explained that merely taxing income was not enough to break up today’s deeply entrenched economic inequality. To do that, we also need to directly tax wealth. He pointed to Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to impose a progressive tax on fortunes greater than $50 million. If we don’t take action to reduce wealth concentration, he warned, citing Thomas Piketty, “the heirs of today’s billionaires will dominate our politics, culture, philanthropy and economy.”