A solution to our troubles: tax the rich
By Joan Juliet Buck, Tuesday 9 August 2011 20.30 BST
I’m not a politician. I have an American passport but I grew up in France, where I was taught logic, and England, where education was free or affordable, health was a human right, roads, bridges and the post office worked, and taxes were high. When I first came to New York taxes were high, too, because of the Vietnam war. I hated the war, but understood the logic. Once the 1980s began, America seemed increasingly out of step with reality: animated by willful delusions, kept cheerful by the wishful thinking of religion or therapeutic sects. Evolution is not even considered a fact here, just a rival theory to creationism.
My country now seems unable to discern any difference between government spending on schools, police, infrastructure – things that make the common good – and personal shopping, which is what George Bush urged everyone to go do after 9/11. The latter now falls into three distinct categories: incredibly expensive imported luxury goods, incredibly crappy tat from chain stores, or nauseatingly expensive medical care. Those of us who are not anesthetised by prescription drugs or whacked out on homemade ones find other ways to avoid reality: overwork, for those who can get it, or the endlessly inventive bottomless pit of the cyber world. The relationship between cause and effect has vanished. Parse: Bin Laden destroyed the World Trade Centre; we kill Saddam Hussein. The muscle that binds idea to action has dissolved. Pundits scream at each other on television 24/7, but in New York, you have to watch al-Jazeera (channel 92) to get the news, courtesy of Qatar, the richest little country in the world which seems to want to be as important as Rupert Murdoch.
When I returned to America in 2001, George Bush distributed the $127.3bn surplus that the Clinton administration had accumulated, giving everyone in the country a tax refund of $300 like a feckless lottery winner who wants to make friends. By 2002, that surplus had inverted into a deficit of $157.8bn dollars. Then, next year, Bush went to war. Taxes didn’t go up. Then, there was a second war. Then, there was the financial crash, and the bailout of the banks, and the birth what is politely called the “recession”. We elected Obama in a frenzy of self-congratulation at our boldness. He promised change and hired Wall street advisers, instead of Paul Krugman or Joseph Stiglitz. Now, there is a third war. Taxes have not gone up. Who is paying for the wars? The budget amendment passed last week will slash $900bn from government programmes, but the Bush tax cuts live on. Capital gains are still taxed at 15%. The top tax rate for salaries is still 35%. This is insane.
There was a lot more screaming on television. The ratings agency Standard and Poor downgraded the United States‘s credit rating from AAA for the first time ever. It was, in a way, the final consequence of 9/11.
Last Friday, 5 August, at 4.56pm, I created an open group on Facebook called Tax The Rich. It seemed the only logical response.
And then, I felt guilty. I might be pissing someone off. It felt capricious, even dangerous to state: “This group exists because we believe that the rich should be taxed like the rest of us.” Perhaps it wasn’t nice to ask that people who earn $500,000 or £1m a year give more than 35% of that to the government. Maybe corporations and individuals should only pay 15% tax on capital gains, so that $1,500 shoes and $28,000 bags can find plenty of buyers. Maybe the illiteracy in my country promotes better empathy among the young, and maybe the inevitable cuts in social security will convince cranky old people to just end their days, thereby relieving the stretched medical system. Maybe the rich should have it all, and share it with people they choose as long as these have decent clothes, are certified free of bedbugs and can afford to keep their teeth white. Maybe Qatar will buy New York. Maybe the Chinese will buy white babies. Probably female ones, as they have a shortage of girls. My dystopian fantasies are endless. I think there are riots all over London.
I think the common good has been forgotten and I am afraid that by stating this, I will be labelled a bolshevik.
Tax The Rich is four days old on Facebook. It has a bold new black and white logo designed by a member, and so far we’ve gathered 1,300 people. Sorry, 1,308. Every minute, two or three people ask to join. We tell them what to do so they don’t get an email every time someone posts, and there are a great many posts. There are links to Robert Reich’s piece on Huffington Post or Paul Krugman in the New York Times, or Senator Bernie Sanders. One member advances the jarring notion that “annual rates of growth in the high-tax era between 1950 and 1980 exceeded those of the last 30 years.” Another member says that paying taxes is as crucial to a democracy as voting. He’s right.
The first equality is trickle-down, just as Reagan said: the rich should participate in their country as do the salaried cubicle workers, the labourers and builders, the baristas and waitresses, the freelancers, the working poor. Around 180AD, the emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote:
That which is not good for the hive is not good for the bee.
We’re hoping for a mass. It’s definitely a movement. We’re 1,331 since the last time I counted.
Photograph of a gold-plated Infiniti luxury sports car on a test drive in Nanjing, China, AFP Photo/Getty Images.