When I hear the conservative mantra that we are unfairly “taking from the rich,” I want to remind them that in any legitimate democracy we all benefit from and “take” from each other and the rich do take from the middle class and the poor. The amazing public systems in this country — physical infrastructure, patents and trademark protection, public schools, libraries, and hospitals — are something we built together, as citizens. The wealthy have not only benefitted enormously from these investments we all helped build, but over the past 30 years, they have further used their wealth to enact tax policy to benefit themselves disproportionately to the rest of the citizens.
Corporations, who are also doing enormously well, have slowly but steadily eroded the power of workers and shifted a disproportionate share of the enormous economic growth in this country to the top. Wages and household income for the middle class and the poor are either flat or down over the past 30 years. We all know what’s happened at the top –astronomical increases in income and wealth. This is not the “invisible hand” of the market. This is cronyism in the boardrooms of America and the power of money to write the rules.
The economy is a measure of how well we are doing. It exists to serve “we the people,” and to sustain a vibrant, living planet. We somehow have turned it all backwards and now worship and worry about the economy. “Oh, no, we can’t raise taxes — it will hurt the economy!” As a brilliant communications strategist, Anat Shenker-Osorio notes: It’s not the economy that hurts, it’s we the people!
The economy is the metaphor we use to describe how we are all doing on the journey through life. Right now it’s real people that are hurting because those we have entrusted to drive the bus, to run the economy, are either driving drunk or taking us on a wild ride that is not going to end well.
When people like Sens. Kahn and Hann say that it’s “unfair” to take money from those who have “earned it,” they are ignoring the overwhelming evidence of the past 30 years. The wealthy have unfairly rigged the system through wage suppression, tax cuts or tax subsidies, and have literally taken the wages from the bottom 90 percent and lined their own pockets. I am not suggesting we shouldn’t have some differences in economic outcomes — we want people to succeed and do well. But the current system is rigged and we need to come to grips with that so “we the people” can get back to living our lives and not worrying every night if we can pay the bills tomorrow.
Around the country, over 150 patriotic millionaires have come together to tell Congress to raise their taxes. Many wealthy business people in this state are well aware of the inequities in the system and are speaking out about their willingness to be taxed fairly. There are many good and thoughtful people running our companies. All of us though, to some degree, have become blinded by this “myth of the economy” and the power of the “free market.”
Our economy exists to serve us. Good business and economic policy will allow it to work for all of us again. It’s time we heard these voices even more clearly and push the legislature to act on their wisdom now.
It’s real people who will get hurt if we shut down Minnesota on July 1.
Ann Manning is outreach director for Wealth for the Common Good. She is also a former CPA with Coopers & Lybrand and was director of corporate planning for Medtronic.