Tax the Rich

Taxing the rich is a big thing nowadays. All the Democrats are floating it, and people (who aren’t rich) seem to be majority in favor. The rich aren’t, of course, because it means they only get to have a “a few” billion instead of “several” billion, or it might reduce them from seven summer homes in three countries to maybe just five homes in two. Oh, the humanity.

I’m all for taxing the rich. I’m for worse than that, honestly. There was a Louisiana politician who floated the idea of, among other things, a maximum income cap, a maximum inheritance cap, guaranteed minimum household worth, and free education for all. His name was Huey Long, and he introduced this ‘Share Our Wealth’ platform in 1934. The popularity of him and his viewpoints was such that he planned a serious presidential bid to challenge Roosevelt in 1936. It never happened; he was assassinated in 1935, in what some would call ‘very convenient timing’.

But think about it. Long suggested that annual income for any individual be capped at 1 million dollars, and that no person be allowed to accumulate more personal net wealth in excess of 300 times average family fortune. That was in 1934. In 2020 terms, we’re talking about an annual income cap of $19 MILLION dollars. Per year. Nineteen million. Per. Year. If you can’t live a very comfortable life off $19 million per year, how much money you make is not the problem.

“But wait!” says our ultra rich reader. “What about my personal fortune? My net worth?” The average family net worth in 2018 was, give or take, about $97,000 USD. Times 300, that’s $29 million dollars. Which is actually less than two years of work, if you make $19 million per year.

“Well, that’s hardly anything! How am I suppose to survive? How am I supposed to retire?”

But here’s the thing I love about the Share Our Wealth platform. It doesn’t say you can’t have more than $29 million in personal net worth. It says you can’t have more than 300 times the average national family fortune. So if the ultra rich want to have personal fortunes of, say, $300 million instead? They need to help raise the average family fortune to $1 million! They still get to have much, much more than your average household… but the average household gets to have much, much more than they did before. Everyone wins. That’s the beauty of it.

That’s also what horrifies die-hard capitalists. Capitalism is a zero-sum game that relies on the idea that if you don’t get that money, someone else does. Their gain is your loss — and of course, your loss is their gain. There is no room in capitalism for the idea of willingly having less so others can have more. Money is a scarce resource, so you want to have as much as possible, and damn everyone else.

Money is a scarce resource, but only because of this hoarding behavior. Only because there are people in the world who think that $19 million a year isn’t enough to live a good life, and that $29 million isn’t enough to retire with, and that $300 million is ‘poor’ because someone else has $3 billion instead.

No one should have $3 billion in the first place, when there are vast swaths of the world who struggle to have access to safe food and water, and for whom education and health care are a luxury. No one should have three thousand times as much as the average family ($300 million net worth), when there are vast numbers of people who have to work two or three jobs to be able to pay rent and their bills.

It doesn’t trickle down. Wealth hasn’t worked like a water fountain, where once the basin is full, it overflows to those below it. What the wealthy have done is built steeper and steeper walls to that uppermost level, so make sure as much of the water stays there as possible. Meanwhile, the people beneath die of thirst.

Tax the rich. It’s a good start. Make them contribute to the betterment of the society they’re part of. They’ll never do it willingly so long as our society views success as a zero-sum game.

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