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Paying Taxes: The Old Patriotism Meets the New Philanthropy

Don't fight higher taxes, Rich People; pay them. Just tell yourself you're giving it away to a poor relation. After all, Uncle Sam is family.
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In the movie "All About Eve," the titular character, Eve, asks Bill Sampson, the director, why he's going to Hollywood. "Is it the money?" she asks. "No," Bill shrugs."Uncle Sam will take most of it." He says this without resentment or rancor. Paying taxes was the patriotic thing to do in the 40s, and besides, Bill's passions are his work and Margo Channing, not making money. (The unhappiest character in the movie is the producer, Max Fabian. Money is all he thinks about.)

"All About Eve" is set in the immediate postwar years. To finance the war, both taxes and the deficit had skyrocketed to much higher levels, as a percentage of GDP, than they're at today. Tax rates remained high in the succeeding decades, as administrations both Republican and Democratic presided over a largely interrupted and remarkable stretch of American prosperity.

Then in the late 70s, globalized wealth gave birth to a new class: the super rich. Suddenly the mere rich were discontented, and the era of tax-cutting began under Reagan. There was some pushback under Clinton, resulting in prodigious job growth and one year of rare surplus, then came the Bush tax cuts and a sharp rise in income inequality. The consequences of this concentration of wealth have been a wrecking ball through the U.S. economy ever since.

Now we have the strange display of Bill Gates getting 39 billionaires to pledge to give away half their wealth. Isn't that nice? Such generosity. As if there is no correlation between a tiny sliver of the population making more money than they can ever spend and a huge increase in the number of people who can barely make ends meet.

These billionaires have discovered -- the easy way -- that indeed money doesn't buy happiness (though giving it away may purchase a modicum of redemption.) Hell, I could have told them that. Or they could have just tuned into any episode of the "Real Housewives of Wannabe County." It would be hard to find more glaring evidence of the utter spiritual bankruptcy that comes with making it a life goal to have bouncier breasts and a bigger boat than your best frenemy.

The other trait of the strivers seems to be an utter conviction that any day now, they're going to make it up into the top income percentile. After all, Sarah Palin did it. Here's a woman who might have been of actual public service, but who was so anxious to rake in the dough that she couldn't even finish out one measly term as Alaska Governor. And millions admire her for it -- Mama Grizzly going for the honey in spite of all those nasty liberal bees.

I can hear the hedge fund managers and the CEO's laughing all the way to the bank. They've gotten the top half of the bottom 98% convinced that the bottom half of the bottom 98% is the cause of all their woes. It's classic Divide-and-Conquer.

As an ex-con, I laugh when the Tea Party screams about "freedom." Trust me, you don't quite get what that word means until you can't even walk down to the corner to get yourself a 7-Up. Not to mention these people are not one iota less free to make all the money they want under Barack Obama as they were under George Bush. What they're really caterwauling about is their "feardom." They're afraid what they imagine is whitefully theirs will suddenly go to people who haven't "earned" it. You know, the people who voted for Obama. Negroes and Homos. Socialists and Spanish-speakers.

Oh hear me, Rich People. More money does not make you more happy. Look around you--or at least out the window of your limo. Wouldn't it be nice if those kids coming home from school were in a class size of 25 instead of 35? Wouldn't it make you feel better to know the person in the ambulance whizzing by was going to get prompt treatment that wouldn't bankrupt her? And how about that homeless veteran, collecting cans to turn in? Don't you think he deserves better?

Don't fight higher taxes, Rich People; pay them. Just tell yourself you're giving it away to a poor relation. After all, Uncle Sam is family.

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