Also published in The Progressive, The Vindicator, Press of Atlantic City, Colorado Daily, National Post (Canada) and Financial Post (Canada).
In recent weeks, there has been a lot of discussion about raising taxes on the wealthy. As a higher-income person who would pay such taxes, I have no objection.
I grew up in India and came to the United States in 1988. I attended graduate school at Stanford and have since had a successful career in the technology industry. There is no other country in the world where this could have happened.
I could choose to tell my story this way: “I arrived with $250 in my pocket, and got where I am based entirely on my hard work.” This is true, but it’s not the whole truth.
A more honest reckoning would take into consideration that I received an excellent engineering education paid for by the taxpayers of India, and that my graduate education at Stanford was funded by National Science Foundation grants and other U.S. government investments in scientific research.
My professional success — and that of the technology industry as a whole — was enabled, in part, by the advent of the Internet, itself a creation of public investments in research and development and by the available pool of talent, trained and nurtured by our public education system.
A more accurate telling of my story would consider that every day I benefit from schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, parks and civic amenities that were built and paid for by previous generations. They were much less well off than we are today. Yet they had the collective will to invest in their future and the future of their children.
I am worried, though, that things are changing in America. The kinds of public investments that made my success possible are vanishing.
Two decades ago, the United States was unique in its meritocratic system and the depth of infrastructure that enabled individuals to succeed.
But during the last decade, taxpayers in my income group received significant tax breaks.
The Bush-era tax cuts gave $700 billion in breaks over eight years to those of us with annual incomes more than $200,000. The United States borrowed money to make these tax cuts possible, even as our schools, infrastructure, research institutions and social services were in need of new investments.
This is extremely shortsighted. Our investment as citizens in our collective “commons” lays the foundation for our individual wealth and success. That’s why I’ve joined hundreds of other high-income taxpayers in calling for a reversal of these tax cuts. This would generate roughly $43 billion in annual federal revenue, which could be used to make investments in public education, health care and revamping our nation’s energy system.
Taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized and healthy society. Those of us who have disproportionately benefited from public investments have a responsibility to pay back our society so that others can have similar opportunities.
It is only just and fair that our generation make comparable investments in our future to ensure that America continues to offer our children and grandchildren the same kind of opportunities it offered me.
Arul Menezes is a member of Wealth for the Common Good, a network of business leaders and high-net-worth individuals that advocate for shared prosperity. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with the Progressive magazine. (McClatchy-Tribune)