Activists demand higher taxes on the rich

Activists demand higher taxes on the rich during a demonstration on May 17, 2021 in Tampa, Florida.

(Photo: Gerardo Mora/Getty Images for MoveOn)

Group of Wealthy Americans Warns US Democracy 'Will Not Survive' Unless Rich Are Taxed Heavily

"For my future, my grandchildren’s future, and our country’s future, we need to tax the rich," said Morris Pearl, chair of the Patriotic Millionaires.

A group of rich Americans marked Tax Day on Tuesday by calling on the U.S. Congress to aggressively tax wealthy people like themselves, warning that the U.S. will remain in a state of "perpetual chaos" until lawmakers boldly confront the worsening inequality crisis.

"Tax Day isn't just a filing deadline—it's also an annual reminder that the ultra-rich exist in an entirely separate world when it comes to taxes," said Morris Pearl, chair of the Patriotic Millionaires, an advocacy group that supports progressive taxation.

"For us, the loopholes are bigger, the rates are lower, and many rules are entirely optional," Pearl, a former managing director at BlackRock, continued. "The tax code has been contributing to growing inequality for decades, and we're reaching a point where the concentration of wealth is simply unsustainable. We need a change, or our economy and our democracy will not survive. For my future, my grandchildren’s future, and our country’s future, we need to tax the rich."

Ahead of a Tuesday morning event on Capitol Hill, which will feature Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and other progressive lawmakers, Patriotic Millionaires released a tax reform agenda that calls for, among other changes, a 90% top marginal tax rate for people with annual incomes above $100 million and a federal tax exemption for people who earn less than a "cost-of-living wage."

The group also proposed legislation titled the Oppose Limitless Inequality Growth And Restore Civil Harmony (OLIGARCH) Act, which would create a progressive wealth tax structure aimed at countering the vast concentration of fortunes at the very top.

Patriotic Millionaires explained that the bill would establish "wealth tax bracket thresholds based on multiples of median American household wealth."

"The bracket thresholds are set at 1,000, 10,000, 100,000, and 1,000,000 times median household wealth, with marginal rates at 2, 4, 6, and 8 percent respectively," the group said. "It will wax and wane with wealth concentration, intensifying during periods of extreme inequality when wealth at the top is increasing faster than wealth in the middle, and tapering off to near non-existence when median household wealth increases and inequality moderates."

Erica Payne, founder and president of Patriotic Millionaires, said in a statement Tuesday that the heavily skewed U.S. tax code contains "the seeds of our destruction."

A massive trove of Internal Revenue Service documents obtained by ProPublica last year showed that the 25 richest Americans—including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Tesla CEO Elon Musk—paid an average true tax rate of just 3.4% between 2014 and 2018 in large part because unrealized capital gains from stock appreciation are not taxed.

Patriotic Millionaires on Tuesday called for a Billionaire Minimum Income Tax that would "impose a minimum tax on a wealthy household's true economic income, including unrealized capital gains, thereby eliminating the incentive for billionaires to hoard assets and avoid selling, and instead live on low-interest personal loans."

"Elites over decades have broken the social contract," said Payne. "The only way to restore stability to this nation, the only way to fix this country, is to tax this country appropriately. That includes 90% tax rates on centi-millionaires and an aggressive wealth tax designed to make billionaires less rich."

According to an Oxfam America analysis published last week, U.S. billionaires have gotten 86% richer over the past decade, with $37 of every $100 of wealth created between 2012 and 2021 going to the top 1%. The bottom 50% only received $2 for every $100 of wealth generated during that period, according to Oxfam.

"Tax Day is a reminder that the tax system isn't working for ordinary Americans. It's built to favor the richest in our society," said Nabil Ahmed, Oxfam America’s Director of Economic Justice. "The ultrawealthy are sitting on mountains of wealth that remain largely untouched by taxes, and their wild riches are in no small part a result of intentional public policy."

"We need to implement strategic wealth taxes if we want to stand any chance at reining in this kind of Gilded-Era wealth inequality that allows the super-rich to have a stranglehold over our economy," Ahmed added.

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