Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) explained her proposal for a 70 percent marginal tax rate for the richest Americans on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert." (Photo: @headlineplanet/Twitter)

Putting Tax Rates and Billionaire 'Excess' in Moral Terms, Ocasio-Cortez Asks 'What Kind of Society Do We Want to Live In?'

"I do think that a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don't have access to public health is wrong."

Julia Conley

Appearing on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" Monday night, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) once again brought to American households a discussion of the economic system which has allowed an extreme wealth gap to widen in the United States, explaining her proposal to impose a far higher tax rate on the wealthiest Americans in order to even the playing field.

"At what level are we really just living in excess, and what kind of society do we want to live in?" —Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

Weeks after telling Anderson Cooper on "60 Minutes" that Americans who make more than $10 million per year should be taxed at 70 percent, Ocasio-Cortez explained to Colbert that her proposal is far from radical.

"It's not a new idea," she said. "Under the Republican administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, we had 90 percent marginal tax rates."

The first-term congresswoman, whose outspoken advocacy for a Medicare for All system, a Green New Deal, and bold reforms to pull working Americans out of poverty has left establishment Democrats and their supporters claiming that she is a "radical," did not mince words in summing up how economic inequality in the U.S. has spiraled out of control.

"I do think that a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don't have access to public health is wrong," she said.

While Ocasio-Cortez clarified that she doesn't believe billionaires like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet are "immoral" just because they are billionaires, she highlighted the moral question around an economic system that permits a handful of people to amass such wealth when so many in society are forced to live in poverty as they work long hours for meager pay.

"At what level are we really just living in excess," she asked, "and what kind of society do we want to live in?"

The line drew loud applause from Colbert's studio audience.

When Colbert asked, "How many fucks do you give?" about establishment Democrats and critics who have scolded Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives for their outspokenness regarding improvements the party leadership could make, the congresswoman replied, "I think it's zero."

She added that she rejects the characterization of her advocacy and activism as "divisive," saying she looks to civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. for examples of tactics which bring about lasting change.

"People called Martin Luther King divisive in his time," Ocasio-Cortez reminded Colbert. "We forget he was wildly unpopular when advocating for the Civil Rights Act. I think that what we need to realize is that social movements should be the moral compass of our politics."

Ocasio-Cortez elaborated on her point in another Monday interview with author Ta-Nehisi Coates, explaining that elected officials in the current political climate must take extra care to prove to the public that they are working for American families—by forcefully fighting against the systems which have created massive inequities in one of the richest countries in the world.

"Right now, I think with this administration, with the current circumstances, with the abdication of responsibility that we've seen from so many powerful people—even people who kind of abdicate that responsibility by calling themselves liberal or a Democrat or whatever it is—I feel a need for all of us to 'breathe fire,'" Ocasio-Cortez said.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Critics Warn Biden 'Summit for Democracy' Will Highlight Democrats' Failures at Home

"President Biden can't champion democracy across the globe without fulfilling his promise to protect our voting rights at home."

Jessica Corbett ·


'Like a Teenager Promising to Clean Their Room in 30 Years': Biden Net-Zero Climate Goal for 2050 Ridiculed

"2050 is an extremely weak goal for the federal government to free itself from climate-heating pollution. It ignores existing technology and adds decades to GSA's own commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2025."

Brett Wilkins ·


Biden Should Cancel Student Debt or Watch $85 Billion Evaporate From US Economy: Analysis

Far-reaching cancellation enacted by Biden could add more than $173 billion to the nation's GDP in 2022 alone.

Kenny Stancil ·


Given Cover by Red-Baiting GOP, Corporate Dems Rebuked for Tanking Biden Nominee for Top Bank Regulator

"If you think that Senate Democrats rose up to [Republicans'] shameful display of modern McCarthyism by rallying around President Biden's nominee or her ideas that banking should work for the middle class, then you don't know the soul of today's Democratic Party," wrote one columnist.

Julia Conley ·


'S.O.S.!': Groups in Red States Nationwide Plead With Democrats to Pass Voting Rights Bill

"We can tell you firsthand that our Republican senators have no interest in joining this effort."

Jake Johnson ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo