The Common Good

Thank God for the Patriot Millionaires

This morning I learned about a website and a letter signed by more than 3 dozen millionaires (folks who have earned over $1 million in a year either now or in the past) asking the President to allow tax cuts for people making over $1 million to expire at the end of the year. They don't need it, they don't want it, they know that they won't create jobs with it, and they know it will blow a whole in the deficit a mile wide. They are asking the President to let them pay their fair share.

As I learned in basic economics, a capitalist economy will always benefit the people with the most capital the most -- it's rigged to make the rich, richer, and left to it's own devices, the rest of us be damned (excuse my language). So economists -- mainstream economists from Adam Smith (the father of modern capitalism) on down -- have advocated a progressive tax system that increases steeply for those at the very high end. The marginal tax rate for millionaires in the heart of the Great Depression was 68 percent. Under Eisenhower (a Republican), the marginal tax rate for millionaires rose to 91 percent. In 1976, it was 70 percent. Today? Well, it's half that. The highest marginal tax rate for people earning over $1million is 35 percent. And if some get their way, they would like to reduce that to 28 percent.

God love the patriot millionaires. These are names of people who most of us don't know. (However, Ben Cohen is on the list, and all ice cream lovers know how he made his millions, as is the recording artist Moby.) There are only 375,000 millionaires in this country, and 235 of them serve in Congress. That means that millionaires make up less than 1 percent of the entire population, but they make up 44 percent of the members of Congress. This should give us all pause. While I would be the first to say that I want smart, well-educated people to be members of Congress, there are lots of smart, well-educated folks who don't make more than 1 million dollars a year. I'd like to think that I am one of them.

But given the outrageous amount of money that it takes to run for Congress and win, it's no wonder that only the rich can get elected. Even if they don't self-fund their campaigns (and many do and have), these are the people who know other rich people. These are also the people who are so out of touch with reality that they don't think that those people are really rich. So now we have created a dynamic where not only does our capitalist system itself skew the wealth toward the top, but our federal legislature (which remember, is full of millionaires) is ensuring that the wealth stays there.

And what will happen now that I am bringing this up? I will be accused of class warfare. I just wish it were a fair fight. But it won't be, and it can't be, unless people just like these folks keep standing up and stepping out and saying, "We don't need your tax cuts, we don't want your tax cuts, and we want to pay our fair share so that we can continue in this wonderful capitalist economy that will always benefit us the most." I just want to say, "thank you" to each of the people who have signed this letter -- the letter puts them on the front lines of the "class war." You, my countrymen and women, are true patriots.

portrait-jennifer-kottlerRev. Jennifer Kottler is the Director of Policy and Advocacy at Sojourners. A long-time advocate for justice, Jennifer has served in advocacy ministry for more than eight years through her work at Protestants for the Common Good (Chicago, IL), the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign, and the Chicago Jobs Council.

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