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The Solution Hiding In Plain Sight: Tax The Rich

(Jimi Filipovski/Unsplash)
(Jimi Filipovski/Unsplash)
This article is more than 4 years old.

Here’s a fun parlor game that you can try out the next time you’re chatting with your conservative relative(s): ask him or her when America was great. Chances are, the answer you’ll get is the one our president often cites: the post-World War II boom years.

This was an era of peace, economic prosperity, and, if you were a white male, unchallenged cultural hegemony. It was also a time when, as historian Trump explains, “we were not pushed around, we were respected by everybody, we had just won a war, we were pretty much doing what we had to do.”

Now comes the fun part of the parlor game: you get to ask your relative if they have any idea what tax rate the richest Americans paid during this era.

If they guess 25 percent, you get to say, “Higher!”

If they guess 50 percent, you get to say, “Higher!”

If they guess 75 percent, you get to say, “Higher!”

If they guess 90 percent, you get to say, “Higher!”

In fact, the tax rate on the richest Americans from 1951 to 1963 was 91 to 92 percent.

Crazy, right? President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a socialist!

But here’s the even crazier thing: by the standards of our current era, most every American president before Reagan would have been considered a socialist. Because the tax rate levied against the richest Americans from 1932 until 1986 fluctuated between 50 and 92 percent. It’s true! Check the chart.

And here’s the craziest thing of all: taxing really rich people at a high rate didn’t actually turn America into a Communist hell hole.

Just the opposite. It created a booming economy, with greater income equality, a strong social safety net and enough money to invest in economic engines such as the GI Bill and the national highway system.

The whole idea that taxing super rich people will damage the economy, it turns out, is a myth perpetrated by … really rich people. Imagine that.

In fact, the richest citizens in our country — what our president might call “the elites” — have created an entire discourse designed to distract the rest of us from their obscene avarice. This is why Fox New rage bots shriek “class warfare!” every time a politician has the temerity to suggest that our bulging billionaire sector might forego another yacht so that the have-nots of America can have a livable wage, or dependable health care, or educational opportunity. The panic of their rhetoric correlates to the scale of their con.

This is why so many conservatives (and billionaires) are wigging out about the tax proposal recently put forward by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Here’s what she suggested: that every person who makes more than $10 million per year would be taxed at up to 70 percent on every dollar above that $10 million mark. So you get $10 million at the standard tax rate, then you start to pay the higher rate.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez listens to a speaker at a fundraiser Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/AP)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez listens to a speaker at a fundraiser Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

By recent American historical standards, this isn’t a radical plan. It’s actually conservative.

And not surprisingly, it’s popular. In a recent poll, nearly 60 percent of registered voters approved of this proposal. In fact, if you look at a wide range of polls, all of them show that most Americans want the super wealthy to pay more.

Of course, our president and his congressional enablers disagree. That’s why their one act of major legislation was a tax cut for the wealthy and corporations. This is what you can expect from the GOP, which has become a party whose populism is based on racial grievance, not economic justice.

They now have as a leader a self-proclaimed billionaire who glories in the notion that he’s smart enough to avoid paying taxes. The truth of how much money he has and where it comes from we don’t know, because he refuses to release his tax returns. He has stocked his cabinet with plutocrats whose mission is to shape a government that serves the whims of the rich, and has no clear understanding of the lives of working people.

Just take a look at the government shutdown Trump engineered. He and his cabinet had no clue as to the harm it was doing to working families. Only when the shutdown threatened air travel did Trump back down.

... income inequality is not an incurable disease.

This coddling of the rich is America’s biggest scandal hiding in plain sight, and it’s the reason democratic presidential candidates are starting to propose common sense solutions, including Elizabeth Warren’s “ultra-millionaire tax,” in which citizens worth more than $50 million would pay a two percent tax on their wealth. That’s a drop in the bucket to the mega-rich, but it would raise an estimated $2.75 trillion dollars in a decade.

All of these plans poll well with Americans, just like common sense gun control. Which is why the crony capitalists who run the modern conservative movement, and the greater global cartels, are freaking out.

You can expect plenty of fear-mongering and propaganda as more and more Americans wake up to the reality: income inequality is not an incurable disease.

All it requires is an electorate willing to support candidates who put into practice the basic economic scheme of the Eisenhower era, and the moral teachings of Christ: that generosity should overrule greed, and the needs of the poor matter more than the luxuries of the rich.


Steve Almond Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond is the author of the novel “All the Secrets of the World.” He’ll be teaching several Workshops for Democracy this fall.



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