Giving. . . And Taking Back
Jun 2012 06

Giving. . . And Taking Back

Posted In Activism,Blog,Politics

by Steven Whitney


[Above: The Hall of Mirrors within the Palace of Versailles / Storming the Bastille]

Last week, a friend asked: if you could communicate one thing before you died, what would it be? So, hedging my bets, this is that column. Since I’m not a fan of polemics, consider this merely as the first item, as it were, on my bucket list of social truths.

They aren’t going to give it back.

Memorize that one clear, simple sentence and you’ll be miles ahead of the game.

They aren’t going to give it back.

But who are they…and what aren’t they giving back?

They are the idle rich and the rich who create nothing, not even jobs. They are the so-called “masters of the universe” who gamble other people’s money and win no matter how the bet turns out. They are the rich who live in five or six McMansions each (and perhaps a yacht or two) and who aren’t “concerned about the very poor” because they have “a safety net.” They are the rich who rally against education because they don’t want a level playing field or an electorate who can actually think for themselves and understand the clear issues they too often succeed in obfuscating. They are the rich who are not their brother’s keeper so will not support the “general welfare” of their fellow citizens. They are the rich who don’t support universal healthcare because the sick don’t make them any money, especially if they cannot afford expensive drugs that might keep them alive – worse yet, the sick are too ill to work for them at minimum wage. They are the rich, self-described “patriots” who steadfastly refuse to pay even one extra penny to keep the country afloat. They are the rich who want to shut down government in favor a free-market economy, which to them means a market free of all regulation and oversight. They are the rich who prey on the rest of us, the rich who are not “of the people” or “for the people,” but are instead barnacles on the hull of humanity, sucking it dry of all common morality – the parasites who make no positive contributions to society as a whole.

They are not the good rich, of which there are many, but the bad rich, the ugly face of the rich…and they aren’t going to give back their money, their power, their influence, or their privilege to anyone, much less the little people of the 99%. They will let the principles of democracy rot and wither so they can keep the deck stacked in their favor.

They are not going to give any of it away. Well, at least not to you…or our country. As long as it’s tax-deductible, they might give it to non-profit conservative think tanks or right wing SuperPACs that reinforce the criminally inaccurate notion that the bad rich need to keep all their money and car elevators for the greater good of society.

So we have to take it back ourselves. If America as we know it is to survive – if our people are to live free of economic shackles – we must find a way to recover from them everything that is undeserved, stolen, and inequitable.

That means instituting larger top marginal income and estate tax rates, the very instruments that Republicans call “a holocaust for the rich” and which they warn is the first step in “class warfare,” two phrases born of alarmist horseshit.

The last time these rates were as low as they are now, the government essentially went broke…ushering in the Great Depression. To get the country rolling again, and give its people a New Deal, FDR raised the top rate to as much as 79%. During the 1950s, Eisenhower was able to maintain what became known as the American Century only by raising the top rate to 91%. Nixon, the absolute pragmatist, kept a top rate of 70% and Reagan’s was 50%. And during all those years, the rich suffered not at all, not even a trickle of a holocaust. Class warfare wasn’t even a topic of discussion because, through both the Civil Rights Movement and the idea of a Great Society, America was striving to become “one nation, for all.”

Back then, the rich were composed of people who created good products, jobs, and services that grew in value. And yes, the rich were still different from us, but not that different. Most had houses and cars and took vacations that were a little better than ours, yet they shared with us many of the same values of fairness, of the need for good education and healthcare, and the desire to live in a country that held real opportunity for all. And since it was considered in bad taste to flaunt wealth, the showy, ostentatious McMansions were the exception rather than the rule. There was a more equitable balance between the classes and, so, more cooperation.

Today, that balance is pitiably out of whack.

When the then higher rate of income tax at the time is figured in, CEOs netted just 35% more than the average worker during the 1950s and ’60s. In 2012, CEO salaries were between 380 and 475 times what the average worker makes…and with much lower income, estate, and capital gains taxes. These outrageous gains were bought and paid for by the 1% through the congressional votes of the Republican Party, driving a stake through the heart of the middle class.

Now tell me again: who exactly is engaging in class warfare?

And, by the way, if the 1% wants class warfare, the 99% should oblige them. After all, the numbers are on our side – 99 to 1, to state the obvious.

We already have way too many Marie Antoinettes; what we don’t have is our own Reign of Terror. And since they view higher taxes (Obama’s proposed top rate of 39.6% compared to 91% in the 50s) as a holocaust and the essence of class warfare (as they define it), let’s give it to them…and more. By voting to cut their pay, and impose higher taxes (say, up to Nixon’s 70%), more wealth will accrue to the nation and more equity to society.

This summer and fall millions of Americans must storm the Bastille of right-wing ideology, exposing its shallow self-interest, empty promises, bait-and-switch economic policies, and complete lack of real patriotism.

And then, in November, the guillotine of the ballot box should drop on the arrogance and sense of entitlement of the 1%. But that’s up to you…and only if you remember: they aren’t going to give it back.

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