Five years ago, a few dozen millionaires came together with a plan. They would use their power, influence, and access to lobby Congress and bend it to their will. It sounds like the same old depressing scenario, but this story has a twist. Rather than leaning on lawmakers to advance their personal financial interests, these “Patriotic Millionaires” were engaged in an exercise in civic virtue.
They wanted to do what was right for the country—the whole country. They wanted to support the millions of Americans working hard to create a better future for themselves and their families.
They came to Washington with a simple message and an earnest request:
“PLEASE RAISE OUR TAXES.”
Word spread quickly. Hundreds of media outlets across America covered the Patriotic Millionaires’ crusade to raise taxes on the extremely wealthy—people like themselves—for the good of the country. Even the international community took note. Czech president Václav Kalus referenced the Patriotic Millionaires in an address to parliament about his nation’s tax policy. The largest television station in Japan and Dagens Nyheter, a Swedish magazine, featured the group.
The idea of a group of millionaires doing something so unexpected, something so obviously against their financial self-interests sparked the public imagination. Letters and emails came in from across the country. Most were incredibly positive. A student who had just filed her first tax return wrote:
“Your willingness to give back, and your urgency in asking the government to demandthat those who can most afford to do so do, is most heartening.”
A few were less enthusiastic. One memorable fellow scolded the Patriotic Millionaires: “You obviously know nothing about taxes,” he said. A quick Google search revealed that the gentleman had spent six months in prison for tax evasion.
A few angry politicians suggested that if the Patriotic Millionaires cared so much, they should just write personal checks to the IRS. But most people understood the obvious: moving our country forward requires all of us working together, and sometimes you have to compel people to do the right thing.
In 2012, the Patriotic Millionaires stood on the podium with the president for his annual Tax Day address as he railed against a tax system that allows millionaires to pay lower taxes than their secretaries. A few months later, our government leaders did do the right thing. They let the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans expire at last.
On January 2, 2013, the president signed into law the American Taxpayer Relief Act, which, among other things, raised the marginal tax rate on the wealthiest Americans. Hard-fought victory in hand, the Patriotic Millionaires turned their attention to an even more fundamental problem: wealth inequality.
The wealth gap in the U.S. is more extreme than at any time since the Great Depression. The top 1% owns about 30% of the country’s wealth. The top 10% owns about 70%. The bottom 40%? Nothing. 0% of the wealth. In fact, many of this 40% actually have a negative net worth. They owe more than they own.
Even more problematic? The divide is getting worse. Patriotic Millionaire Dan Berger summed up the feelings of the whole group when he said, “This level of inequality is both a profound moral crisis and a national embarrassment.”
The human face of this problem is the Walmart worker who described the shame she felt for yelling at her daughter who had eaten the last can of tuna for lunch. They had nothing left to eat for dinner.
The important word in that sentence is “worker.” Some studies estimate as many as one in four private sector jobs pay less than $10 an hour. The federal minimum wage has stood at $7.25 an hour (or $15,080 annually) for more than six years. The poverty line for a two-person household, for example a mother and a child, is $15,930. Our laws have codified society’s acceptance of the idea that millions of Americans will work full-time and still live in abject poverty.
WE’RE GOING TO NEED A BIGGER BOAT.
In late 2014, the Patriotic Millionaires joined forces with Wealth for the Common Good, a powerful network of business people and high-net-worth individuals, founded in 2007 by Chuck Collins, the heir to the Oscar Mayer fortune. Together under one roof, these influential Americans began developing a new plan, one that would wrest control of policy-making away from wealthy Americans like them, and away from corporate CEOs and their lobbyists.
At the heart of their plan is a very simple concept, the idea that started it all: representative democracy. A system enshrined by our founders and improved upon throughout our history until recently. In a functioning representative democracy, lawmakers truly represent their constituents’ interests and preferences and work together to craft laws that reflect the shared priorities of the citizenry. This has particular importance when the “will of the people” includes not just a simple majority but also the overwhelming and bipartisan majority as most of the proposals in this book do.
From red states to blue, Americans regardless of party affiliation agree that millionaires should pay higher taxes and that an honest day’s work should provide a decent living. So why doesn’t that happen? It’s simple. Voters don’t have enough power; millionaires have too much.
Patriotic Millionaires Chairman Morris Pearl put it this way: “A tiny number of people are using their money to increase their political power and using their political power to increase their wealth, and it is killing the country.” So now, five years after they asked the president and Congress to raise their taxes, the Patriotic Millionaires are back with a new request: more power for voters, significantly less for millionaires.
The Patriotic Millionaires know a shift in political power will both build a more prosperous country and ensure that the prosperity is shared by millions of Americans rather than by just a few thousand elites. These influential leaders have as their goal a more economically fair country. “I don’t want to be wallowing in my money while everyone else is suffering,” said Patriotic Millionaire Frank Jernigan, a former Google engineer.
Unfortunately, a well-organized cadre of millionaires and billionaires are exercising their control over politicians and policy-making to ensure that critical changes never materialize. They, and the lobbyists they hire, are dead set against the kinds of changes the Patriotic Millionaires—and the vast bipartisan majority of Americans—seek. Overcoming their objections (and their power and money) will require all of us to work together across party lines and economic differences to build the kind of robust democracy and stable, prosperous country most of us want.
The merger of the Patriotic Millionaires with Wealth for the Common Good marks a pivotal moment. Together, these “traitors to their class” represent hundreds of the country’s wealthiest and most influential citizens, and billions of dollars of economic activity.
This volume is the first in a series of eBooks to be released over the course of 2016, as the Patriotic Millionaires work to highlight a set of solutions that can move our country forward to a more prosperous, stable, and inclusive future. Working together, we can assure the adoption of rational policies that encourage a vibrant economy and the inclusive society the vast majority of Americans want.
Will the fight be hard? Sure, the most important ones are. Will it be impossible? Not even close.
In fact, we could revitalize our democracy, raise millions of Americans out of poverty, and start to reinvest in our country by this time next year if, over the next 12 months, we commit to creating an overwhelming demand—a true public mandate—for economic policies that enrich hard-working Americans and political process policies that facilitate citizen participation in our decision-making.
Compelled by this moral crisis, the Patriotic Millionaires began an aggressive public education campaign. In 2013, they launched a “Smart Capitalism” campaign to explain to citizens and lawmakers that higher wages would benefit both workers and the country more broadly.
On February 12, 2014, the Patriotic Millionaires joined the president as he signed an Executive Order raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour, a critical first step toward building a stronger, more stable economic foundation. But while we applaud the president’s action, the change impacts only a relatively small number of earners. We actually need a full recalibration of our economy, including a substantial investment in the earnings of low-wage workers.
The North Star of this ambitious “Smart Capitalism” initiative is raising the federal minimum legal wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour and indexing it to inflation. Only through decisive federal action that applies to all workers in all 50 states can we ensure a stable and more prosperous economy over the long run.
Both of these fights—raising taxes on millionaires and raising the minimum wage— have two very interesting things in common: overwhelming bipartisan support from citizens across the country, and vehement opposition from industry group lobbyists and self-interested corporate CEOs.
LET THE RENEGOTIATION BEGIN
from power and money / firstname.lastname@example.org