The Best Reason for the Very Rich to be Paying a Lot More in Taxes
By Paul Buchheit
Before getting into the best reason, here are some of the usual -- and always good -- reasons. First of all, for every dollar the richest 1% earned in 1980, they've added three more dollars. The poorest 90% have added ONE CENT.
The richest million families have not worked three times (let alone 300 times) harder than the other 99 million families.
The richest 10% own 80% of the stock market, providing billions in "unearned income" that is taxed at less than half the rate of income earned through real work. The richest million families may have actually worked LESS than the other 99 million families.
A number of individuals have had one-year incomes over a billion dollars, enough to pay the salaries of 25,000 teachers or health care workers or emergency responders. It's questionable whether a guy who makes a billion betting on a mortgage collapse is worth even one teacher or health care worker or emergency responder.
Next is the woeful state of tax collections on the people making most of the money. Mitt Romney pays 15%, Warren Buffett 17.4%. The richest 400 Americans, 16.6%. The whole top 1% (a million families) paid less than 23% in 2006.
Average Americans pay more than that. Studies show that when state and local taxes, payroll taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and excise taxes are tallied up, low-income people can be paying a higher percentage of taxes than the rich, perhaps up to 40% of their incomes.
Average Americans are also paying more than corporations. For every dollar of workers' payroll tax paid in the 1950s, corporations paid three dollars. Now it's 16 cents.
Whew. A lot of good reasons for the rich to be paying a lot more in taxes.
But here's the BEST REASON. The super-rich like to believe their own initiative and creativity have been the primary drivers of growth in technology and science and business and medicine. Some innovative business leaders deserve credit for putting the pieces together on specific initiatives. But the pieces themselves were put together over many years by thousands of less conspicuous people. As Elizabeth Warren said, "There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody."
Consider just a simple communications device. The pieces were put together by a procession of chemists, physicists, chip designers, programmers, engineers, production-line workers, market analysts, testers, troubleshooters, etc., etc. They, in turn, couldn't have succeeded without another layer of people providing sustenance and medical support and security and administrative assistance and transportation and office maintenance for the technologists. ALL of them contributed to the final product.
You say a lot of them DID get paid? Well, then, something's wrong, because few of the profits over the last 30 years went to this "middle class" of people to keep them financially secure, and to keep them educated in all the new technologies that are replacing their jobs.
The long-term dependency on the supporting members of society is the best reason for the most fortunate among us to care about everyone else. Sadly, research suggests that wealthy people have less empathy for people unlike themselves, because they no longer have reason to associate with them.
This psychological gap between the rich and the rest of us naturally diminishes the incentive for the 1% to support anyone beneath their economic class. Thus less tax revenue and more cutbacks. Cuts in federal spending have been accompanied by an onslaught of social ills, including the highest poverty and homicide and incarceration and obesity and mental illness rates, an increasing child mortality rate, the highest health care costs, low global rankings in math and science scores. We continue to cut the programs that support a stable society.
The most fortunate among us have succeeded because all of America has supported them for 60 years. Yet they've somehow come to believe that they did it all on their own. Nothing could be further from the truth. They should be thanking all the people who contributed to their success.
Thanking them by paying taxes.
Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, an active member of US Uncut Chicago, founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (UsAgainstGreed.org, PayUpNow.org, RappingHistory.org), and the editor and main author of American Wars: Illusions and Realities (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.