Like too many Americans, I’m unemployed. But in my case, the reason isn’t that I can’t find work — it’s that I don’t need it. I’m among the lucky few who can live comfortably off their wealth. And this isn’t wealth I earned through hard work. I did it the easy way: I inherited it.
As the tax filing deadline approaches, you should keep people like me in mind when you hear politicians denounce higher taxes on the wealthy as “class warfare” or an attack on “job creators.” I don’t create jobs. Does it make sense for me to pay lower taxes than someone who works hard all day and makes a lot less than I do?
The richest Americans have hired lobbyists to influence the political process and hide an unpleasant reality: wealthy people have become freeloaders. I’m a freeloader, and I don’t like it.
Conservative ideology doesn’t support free markets. Instead, it protects the wealthy. Conservatives have waged this war for 30 years, obtaining tax cuts for the rich while cutting spending on the public institutions that made this country great.
Ronald Reagan reduced the top marginal tax rate from 69 percent in 1981 to just 28 percent in 1989. Then, a decade later, the wealthy got the government to cut tax rates on capital gains and dividends. These rates are now a mere 15 percent.
Why is this a big deal? Dividends and capital gains are two of the top sources of income generated by wealth. Over and over these past 30 years, the wealthy have persuaded presidents and Congress to tax this income at lower rates. Sure, many working-class and middle-class Americans also make some investment income. But it’s typically an insignificant part of their household budget.
Simply put, the vast majority of this tax giveaway benefits the very richest people in our country.
Most of us are now aware of how this works, thanks to some high-profile examples. Low tax rates on unearned income allow Warren Buffett to pay a lower rate than his assistant. It also knocks multi-millionaire Mitt Romney’s rate down to 14 percent. The hypocrisy is now out in the open.
The same lobbyists who tirelessly protect these tax breaks for the wealthy often bemoan the debt we’re passing on to our children. Yet you never hear them bemoan the deteriorating public infrastructure, such as our public schools, roads, and bridges. That’s a tragic deficit we’re also passing along to future generations. Where’s their outrage about that irresponsible legacy?
I want to be a patriotic citizen, yet when I file my taxes accurately, the tax codes are structured to give me preferential treatment over those who work — teachers, firefighters, managers, soldiers, nurses, and doctors. As a patriot, let me say loud and clear: the system needs to change!
I’m grateful for all I’ve been given. Yet I want to leave my children more than money. I want to leave them a better world. Our nation needs resources to invest in a better future for all of our children. It’s time for wealthy people like me to become more responsible and pay our fair share of taxes.
I imagine a future in which each American child gets a good public education and can compete for the world’s best jobs, our transportation system is the finest in the world, and government invests in basic research to keep our economy vibrant and jumpstart new industries. I’m willing to play my part in that future. Isn’t that only fair?
Betsy Malcolm serves on the organizing committee of Act Now and is a member of Wealth for the Common Good. wealthforthecommongood.org
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