Taxing Wealth for the Common Good
When members of Congress proposed paying for expanded health care with a tax surcharge on America’s wealthiest citizens, the attack was swift but predictable. Taxing the top was labeled “class war,” an attack on the successful, and bad for business and the economy.
So it was refreshing when the high-income members of a new network –Wealth for the Common Good (WFCG) –stepped forward to essentially say “Sure, raise our taxes.” Why? Because it’s fair, and because they can afford it.
“In hard times it is important for Americans to come together and unite over the idea that medical care ought to be a basic right of citizenship,” said former investment banker Eric Schoenberg, a member of the organization. “It’s only fair for those of us who have benefited the most from this system to contribute the most.”
Over the last 30 years, our economic policies have slowly changed to disproportionately benefit our nation’s top-earners and concentrate wealth into the hands of a few. The members of Wealth for the Common Good, a network of business leaders, entrepreneurs, professionals, and other high-income individuals, are among those who have benefited from such policies. Their goal now is to help shape policy so that it benefits people of all income levels
Wealth for the Common Good went public on July 29th with their public call to immediately reverse the Bush-era tax cuts on households with incomes over $235,000. Thousands signed the petition, including hundreds of high-income individuals who would personally pay the tax.
Many members directly support the health care surcharge, but their objectives go beyond that proposal. The broader debate over taxes will be heated in the coming years as we see the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts and face the consequences of an unprecedented national deficit. Wealth for the Common Good, advocating for a rebalanced tax code, wants to be part of the debate.
Changing the conversation is key to this effort. Arul Menezes, a principal architect at Microsoft and member of the initiative, acknowledged that fact when describing his own financial success during a Wealth for the Common Good press conference.
“I could choose to tell my story this way: ‘I arrived [in the United States from India] with $250 in my pocket, and got where I am based entirely on my hard work.’ This is true, but it’s not the whole truth.” Menezes then gave “a more honest reckoning” that took into account his publicly funded education, government investments in the technology industry, and all of the benefits he gains from “schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, parks, and civic amenities that were built and paid for by previous generations…[that] had the collective will to invest in their future and the future of their children.”
In the coming months, Wealth for the Common Good is leading focus groups on a number of proposals that would raise revenue, such as eliminating tax preferences for capital gains and subsidies for excessive executive compensation. Later this fall, it will amplify the voices of small business owners that want to close overseas corporate tax havens.
“Our current tax structure is regressive and unfairly burdens those in the middle and bottom tiers,” said Todd B. Achilles, a WFCG member and a leading executive in the telecom industry. “Ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to be successful and pursue their dreams means ensuring that each and every American contributes appropriately to the nation’s well-being.”
Chuck Collins wrote this article as part of YES! Magazine's ongoing coverage of the new economy. Chuck is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, where he directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good, and coordinator of the Wealth for the Common Good network. Along with Bill Gates Sr., he co-authored Wealth and Our Commonwealth, a case for taxing inherited fortunes.
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