What's Right With This Picture?

It seems counterintuitive at first: the wealthiest Americans raising their voices to keep the estate tax, protesting capital gains tax cuts, and fighting for a living wage for all working people. Shouldn't these rich folks be mired in self-preservation, more interested in their portfolios than in the poor?

Absolutely not, says the Responsible Wealth campaign, a group whose more than 450 members fall in the top 5 percent of income earners in the United States. This means that they earn at least $145,000 in annual household income or have at least $650,000 in net assets.

Responsible Wealth, which is a project of the economic justice group United for a Fair Economy, uses the resources and clout of the wealthiest in society to raise awareness and affect change in economic policy. Members comprise a network of business leaders, investors, professionals, and other affluent Americans.

The group's efforts are concentrated into three main categories—tax fairness, living wage, and corporate responsibility-oriented shareholder initiatives.

Their most visible initiative of late was to support President Clinton's veto of the Estate Tax Repeal, a measure that would have eliminated special taxes that are levied against large estates when a person dies. Estate taxes can cut an inheritance in half, so wealthy people in general were vocally in favor of the repeal. The issue was highly politically charged, as Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush was in favor of eliminating the so-called "death tax" while Democratic candidate Al Gore was not.

Responsible Wealth took the position that most wealthy people not only inherit dollars and cents, but they also have benefited from social institutions like public schools, libraries, and museums. So giving back to society through the estate tax is not a case of simply throwing hard-earned money away.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2001
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