Paying Dues

By Louis Avallone

Is there a humane way to get rid of rich people in the United States? After all, considering our nation’s effective unemployment rate of 16.2%, our national debt of $14.5 trillion, our current year’s budget deficit of $1.48 trillion, the fact that the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted by 2036, and amidst declining personal income tax revenue and plummeting home values, which by the way, is also crippling state services that are dependent on both, it is the rich people that could solve our nation’s problems, if they would only contribute their fair share.

After all, as President Obama said earlier this month, “You can’t reduce the deficit to the levels that it needs to be reduced without having some revenues in the mix.” It’s just like Vice-President Biden said during the 2008 campaign, “It’s time to be patriotic … time to jump in, time to be part of the deal, time to help get America out of the rut.” But continued tax breaks for corporate jet owners, and as long as millionaires and billionaires like Warren Buffet pay an effective tax rate that is less than their domestic help pays, the promise of the American dream grows more faint with each passing day.

And as long as the rich enjoy this favored status, as Obama pointed out, “then that means we’ve got to cut some kids off from getting a college scholarship, that means we’ve got to stop funding certain grants for medical research, that means that food safety may be compromised, that means that Medicare has to bear a greater part of the burden.” I mean, even here in Louisiana, our reported state deficit is more than 20 percent of the state’s general fund, prompting initiatives to reduce the number of state employee by 13 percent, and consolidating, or eliminating, state medical and family services, across the board.

Rich people should see the handwriting on the wall. A CBS News/NY Times poll showed that 72% of people favored raising taxes on the wealthy in order to reduce the deficit. In fact, there have been over 20 polls this year and, overwhelmingly, Americans support higher taxes to reduce the deficit. And that means rich people could soon be paying a lot more, especially since about 46 percent of American households are already paying no federal individual income tax at all.

Some folks say that our economic challenges to balance the budget are because our government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. But clearly we have a revenue problem. Like Obama said last month, “If we only did it with cuts, if we did not get any revenue to help close this gap between how much money’s coming in and how much money’s going out, then a lot of ordinary people would be hurt and the country as a whole would be hurt and that doesn’t make any sense. It’s not fair.”

By now, I hope you are better understanding why so many folks are talking about getting rid of the rich, even though it looks like the current administration’s policies have been effective in beginning this important work. The number of rich people is already in decline. According to IRS statistics, from 2008 to 2009, there was a reduction of millionaires of roughly 40%. Perhaps the most humane way to get rid of rich people is to keep them from becoming rich in the first place.

So, what do we do in the meantime? Well, Congress spends $10 billion per day, or $3.7 trillion per year. So, to keep the economy moving, and spreading the wealth around, including a possibility for another stimulus plan later this year, left-minded folks like us just need a plan. And right now, that plan includes increasing tax revenues so, in the words of Joe Biden, “we can take money and put it back in the pocket of middle-class people.”

Okay, so we need to pick-up $3.7 trillion (or so) annually, to make this dream a reality. We can easily pick-up about one-half of that, if Congress imposes a 100% tax rate on all income earned above $250,000. That will keep our government running through mid-May (again, based on current spending and revenue, levels).

Then, if we can get the Fortune 500 companies to throw in, to the U.S. Treasury, their $400 billion in profits they earned last year (as patriotic corporate citizens), that will keep us going through the end of June.

Next, with a continued, sustained public relations campaign in the media, led by Warren Buffet and other billionaires, to encourage shared sacrifice by America’s 400 billionaires (with a combined net worth of $1.3 trillion), Congress could effectively mandate these billionaires surrender their stocks and bonds, and force them to sell their businesses, yachts, airplanes, mansions and jewelry, with all proceeds collected by the federal government. With the addition of these revenues, we now can keep the government running through mid-August.

Well, that brings us to right about this time of year, and to you reading this column. If you make less than $250,000 a year, we’re going to need you to throw in a lot more money too, it looks like, after raises taxes everywhere else, we’re still about $1 trillion short to make the budget for this year.

But if we are not going to create more rich people, and if we are not going to reduce federal spending levels, the money has to come from somewhere, for everything from socialized medicine to amnesty for illegal immigrants, you know what I mean? After all, in the words of Obama, “If we aren’t willing to pay a price for our values, then we should ask ourselves whether we truly believe in them at all.”

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