In a compromise with Republican lawmakers, President Obama agreed to extend Bush-era tax cuts for wealthy Americans for another two years—breaking his 2008 campaign promise to repeal them.
In return, Republicans agreed to extend unemployment insurance, expand college tax credits, and reduce payroll taxes. Meanwhile, the continuation of tax cuts for Americans making over $250,000 a year will cost an estimated $60 billion a year and $700 billion over the next decade—a terrible misallocation of resources.
Among those disappointed by President Obama's decision are hundreds of wealthy Americans who will benefit directly from the continuation of the cuts—but who have spent months lobbying for them to be allowed to expire. They have signed public petitions, written op-eds, and called their representatives to explain their belief that top-earners have a responsibility to the common good.
Two organizations of wealthy individuals, Wealth for the Common Good and Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, have over 100 public signers with annual incomes of over $1 million and more than 500 public signers with household incomes over $250,000 who want to see tax cuts for the wealthy expire as scheduled on December 31, 2010. They include a dozen Google execs, a Blackrock MD, Chairman Emeritus of the NY Mercantile Exchange, multiple Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, the co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s, the founder of Ask.com, the CEO of Men’s Warehouse, the founder of the Princeton Review, and many others.
In their own words:
Warren Buffett, Nebraska: I think that people at the high end, people like myself, should be paying a lot more in taxes. We have it better than we've ever had it. The rich are always going to say that, you know, "Just give us more money, and we'll go out and spend more and then it will all trickle down to the rest of you." But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on.
Aravinda Ananda, Massachusetts: Most people who earn over $235,000 per year do not earn all of that wealth by their own work. Often, a portion of it is extracted from other people's work or the environment. I think it is fair for a portion of these earnings to be returned to the common good.
All of us in this income bracket can afford good food, a home, and numerous luxuries, and it is fine for us to contribute to the common good according to our abilities. I am happy to contribute my fair share to the well-being of our country, especially when it goes to things like education and health care.
Ken Lewis, Oregon: The federal tax rate for the wealthiest is at an historical low. Today, it is 35 percent, whereas between 1936 and 1980, it never went below 70 percent. Since then, the share of total personal income of the richest one percent more than doubled. As a successful business person, I have benefited from the current tax system, but considering the federal deficit, I want to blow the whistle on it. I believe we need to move toward having one tax system where everyone pays their fair share.
Elaine Attias, California: An essential human value is "fairness." Without it, societies are unstable and unjust. Many of us have benefited financially from the "unfair" tax policies of the Bush Administration. This has produced social unrest and lost opportunities. Let us correct the past abuses and restore a sense of well-being and the good society.
Naomi Sobel, Massachusetts: Because my own family’s good fortune came out of a century of public investments, it makes sense to me that a substantial part of our wealth should be reinvested for the public good. Our family business relied on existing infrastructure like roads and bridges to transport materials. It benefited from government grants intended to spur additional development. We also benefited from our nation’s remarkable system of property laws, deeds, patents, and mortgage systems. Our business was built upon a commonwealth of public resources, scientific knowledge, and shared institutions. Those of us who have disproportionately benefited from these investments have a corresponding patriotic responsibility to reinvest in the common good.
Michael DeBell, Washington State: Progressive taxation is a recognition of collective responsibility, a means for improving the nation from which our wealth is derived and an investment in the human capital that will keep our economy competitive.
Rhoda Gordon, New Jersey: Fairness towards all is what this country stands for. Not survival of the richest.
Stanislav Fritz, Washington: As a percentage of GNP our tax burden right now is at historic lows. Those of us (and we are among those) that make significant money understand that we also benefit from a stable government and benefit the most from taxes. Quite frankly, it is in our enlightened best interest to reverse the cuts we received in the past.
Bryan Kirschner, Washington State: Recently, I took a new job as an executive in a consulting company. We compete for clients all over the world. To grow my business, I need new employees with great critical thinking and analytical skills. I want the United States to invest in education from making it possible for every child to receive quality early childhood education through ensuring the same federal financial aid that helped me is available to every family working hard and making sacrifices to pursue higher education.
As Congress begins debate over whether to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy or let them expire at the end of the year, I hope our elected officials have the courage to let my tax cuts expire.
Gene Mulligan, Virginia: No one likes to talk about taxes in a positive light, but the truth is
that our nation has built a remarkable marketplace for enterprise and
wealth creation. Taxes paid for the public investments in research,
education, infrastructure and technology that made this possible. They
paid for law enforcement and orderly marketplaces. These public
investments buoyed my personal opportunities and wealth. I am certain
they have done the same for millions of other Americans.
Peter Heegaard, Minnesota: I’m a big believer in the importance of mentorship, of helping the next generation of business and community leaders find their way. But I also view efficient government and adequate tax revenue as essential ingredients in a fostering the fertile soil for business development and healthy communities. Just as a healthy farm or garden needs a balance of nutrients, our country needs a balanced and fair tax system.
Chris Wilhelmi, California: When did it become fashionable, for those of us who have benefited most from the resources this country has created, to decide we don’t need to pay it forward? Without higher taxes on the wealthy, we won’t have citizens with world-class educations, robust health, or the 21st Century infrastructure we need to be competitive. Our forefathers bequeathed to us a strong nation they helped pay for with their tax dollars. We the people, owe the future no less.
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