If all of us are to thrive in the United States, we need accountability and support from our public systems of education, health, and transportation — the very systems that we invest our hard-earned tax dollars in.
Unfortunately, the 2001 Bush-era tax cuts gave $700 billion in breaks over eight years to those with annual incomes more than $250,000. The government borrowed money to make these tax cuts possible.
These cuts are due to expire at the end of 2010, but Congress is debating whether to extend them. I come from a family that will pay more if the cuts expire, and I’m urging our lawmakers and President Obama to let the high-income tax cuts expire. We can’t allow these irresponsible tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans continue.
If restored, these taxes could bring in an estimated $700 billion in revenue during the next decade. That is money that could be far better spent on investments in our schools, infrastructure, research institutions and social services.
The story that I was told about how my family accumulated its wealth goes like this: “My grandfather grew up poor, the son of produce peddlers, Jewish refugees from Poland. He made his own fortune through sheer will, hard-work, shrewd business sense and intelligence.”
This story is in large part true — my grandfather was ambitious, intelligent, and extremely focused. The part that is missing is that my grandfather would likely never have achieved his success without the public education system. He would not have achieved his success without the community of Jewish professionals who had also depended on public infrastructure for their good fortune. While he did suffer anti-Jewish discrimination, his white skin privilege and his years spent at the University of Texas opened all the doors to upward class mobility for my Papa Billy.
By allowing our public institutions to wither away without proper funding, we are closing the door for others to achieve success. The idea of the American Dream, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, is always an incomplete story.
Those of us who have disproportionately benefited from public institutions have a special responsibility to make sure that others can also benefit. Unless all of us are thriving, none of us is truly thriving. It is immoral and short-sighted for wealthy families to evade paying their share of taxes so that their wealth accumulates more and more, being passed on through the generations. For this reason, I also urge Congress to restore the estate tax, which is suspended for the duration of this year, thanks to a 2001 Bush administration maneuver.
In order to take care of myself, I must also take care of my community. By investing in public institutions and community organizations, I am helping to create a society where everyone has enough, not just a select elite.
May we all thrive.
Libbey Goldberg is a chef and social justice activist living in Oakland, California. She is active with Wealth for the Common Good (www.wealthforcommongood.org), a network of business and civic leaders, wealthy individuals and partners, promoting fair and adequate taxation to support public investment in a healthy economy.