This is one of those moments when I feel like I live in la-la land. It's possible that I am insane, stark-raving mad and delusional. Either that or there is a staggering moral obscenity underway in our country. We have plenty of money to fund what needs to be done -- but our political leaders, on both sides of the aisle, seem unwilling to go where the money is: the rich. I know where Republicans stand on this issue. But, where in the hell is the Democratic Party?
I've written this memo to labor leaders and other allies, which I invite you to read -- and if you think it's worth circulating, please do so. Rewrite it if you think you've got a better way of laying out this case: we need significantly higher taxes on the rich NOW. We can raise significant amounts of money from the top one percent to help the people of the country. And, yet, we aren't talking about this. Not really.
It is wrong to focus on what seems like a big-ticket number for a short-term stimulus. We should not exhaust the political capital that seems to be floating around the country to finally reverse years of governing by people who are incompetent and mean-spirited. People are pissed. They know they have been robbed. But, we will lose the long-term battle to reinstill in this country a sense of fairness if we focus attention on short-term action. We have to focus the people on this: the rich should start shouldering a fairer share of the dues we pay to live in a functioning democracy.
While our country is disintegrating, the rich are hiding. They are hiding behind their lobbyists and the political leaders they helped elect. They are hiding behind a decades-long ideology that paralyzes the political system from being serious about what the rich should pay. A recent op-ed by Robert Rubin (a man who helped create the financial mess we are in) and Jared Bernstein, a progressive economist, said this:
We both agree that individual income tax rates and other taxes for those at the very top could be moved back to the rates of the Clinton era.
That is entirely absurd. That is letting the rich off the hook. The Clinton-era top rates only seem high relative to the robbery that took place before and after. It is reinforcing such a tiny frame about what the rich owe society. I understand why Rubin, a Wall Street banker, says this. But, if this is what progressives like Bernstein are arguing for, then, they should step aside and let a serious debate take place.
The rich are killing people.
Yes, that is an over-the-top statement. But, tell me, what else would you say when:
People are dying, getting sick or going backrupt -- millions of people -- because they have no health care. And, yet, the rich aren't paying their fair share to heal our society and help fund a national health care system (though, I would point out that a single-payer system would SAVE the government money).
We are killing the planet. And, yet, even our president-elect is talking about investing a relatively puny amount of money to save the earth. We could do much more--if the rich paid a fairer share.
Millions of people are living at poverty level wages: 45 million workers earn $10.21 an hour or less; 24.5% of all workers earn poverty level wages ($9.60 or below); 10% of the American workforce, almost 15 million people, earn $6.79 or less; and 33.3% of black workers and 39.3% of Hispanic workers earn poverty level wages. We should have full employment and the government should be the employer of last resort, guaranteeing everyone a job. We could do that--if the rich paid a fairer share.
States are reeling from big deficits. In my state, New York, we have a "liberal" governor who talks about cutting education and health care. But, if we went back to a more progressive tax system, we could have billions more--and it would only need to come from the richest one percent. Children may not get decent education, teachers may not get a decent salary and people may get sicker and die in New York simply because the rich are not paying their fair share.
We must win this fight first. If we don't win this fight, all the individual programs and demands we make will be gobbled up and disappear, victims of a cowardly political class and a self-centered elite who seem only to care about how much more money they can grab.
We need leaders to stand up and say: Enough. Enough of the robbery that has been blessed for so many years by the political system. We cannot afford that anymore.