America’s Mood: Eat The Rich

In 2017, I wrote a post talking about wealth and asking if there was such a thing as too rich? At that time, a lot of the comments were pro-rich people:

“I don’t think there is anything bad about being rich. It’s what you do with your money, and where your head is at, that counts.”

“I don’t think [capping wealth] is a fair idea in that some very wealthy people have very large portfolios of work and do a lot of good and invest in a lot of innovative projects.”

“I find it hard to say that there’s anything bad about being rich, because you end up in a philosophical dead-end where you have to justify owning anything at at all! I mean, how do you decide where to draw the line? When do you know whether enough money is enough?”

“I think it’s immoral to assume other people know best how to use your money.”

But others were critical of the very rich:

“What always strikes me in conversations like these is how so many people who make a lot of money believe that they do so because they work hard. The flip side to that — which usually goes unmentioned — is that if you don’t have money, then you aren’t working hard enough. And that is so infuriating! People work as hard (if not harder) for their $20,000 salary as you do for your $200,000. The difference is usually a matter of luck and circumstance.”

“I’m so surprised by these comments. I’m so surprised that no one has jumped in and said yes – wealth in the context of poverty is immoral – like it is a threat to even entertain the notion.”


The topic of wealth inequality is all over the news right now and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the public mood toward the very wealthy has shifted in a big way — even since 2017. Here’s an assortment of what I’ve seen just in the last week or two: 

This clip of a Dutch historian confronting all the attendees at Davos about tax avoidance, went viral. “I hear people talking the language of participation and justice and equality and transparency, but then, almost no one raises the real issue of tax avoidance, right? And of the rich just not paying their fair share. It feels like I’m at a firefighters conference and no one’s allowed to speak about water. Stop talking about philanthropy, start talking about taxes.”

– A New York Times opinion piece was titled Abolish Billionaires. “A billion dollars is wildly more than anyone needs, even accounting for life’s most excessive lavishes. It’s far more than anyone might reasonably claim to deserve, however much he believes he has contributed to society. At some level of extreme wealth, money inevitably corrupts.”

– Along the lines of money corrupting people, here is actual language from the State of Massachusetts’ lawsuit against Purdue Pharma: “Eight people in a single family made the choices that caused much of the opioid epidemic.”

That family has billions from opioid sales. Was that money earned? Does it belong to them? Is it none of our business what they do with it?

– On the topic of the wealthy having earned their money, this is an interesting statistic: “Roughly 60% of America’s wealth is inherited, meaning most of America’s riches are owned by people who didn’t work for them.”

So an innovative company earns the CEO billions. The CEO’s kids, who might be total nincompoops, receive that money and all the tax benefits that shield it. Did they earn it? Or did the employees of the innovative company earn it?

– At Davos, Bill Gates showed infographics describing how extreme poverty is going down. But some are calling baloney:

“The first [infographic] has attracted the most attention by far. It shows that the proportion of people living in poverty has declined from 94% in 1820 to only 10% today. The claim is simple and compelling. And it’s not just Gates who’s grabbed on to it. These figures have been trotted out in the past year by everyone from Steven Pinker to Nick Kristof and much of the rest of the Davos set to argue that the global extension of free-market capitalism has been great for everyone. Pinker and Gates have gone even further, saying we shouldn’t complain about rising inequality when the very forces that deliver such immense wealth to the richest are also eradicating poverty before our very eyes.

It’s a powerful narrative. And it’s completely wrong.”

– In the Guardian, there are interviews with people who are actively speaking out against wealth inequality. “There has been a dominant narrative that has remained quite unchallenged in the media. This narrative suggests that there is no connection between the super-rich and abject poverty, that you can keep getting richer and richer, and this has nothing to do with people getting poorer. And it wasn’t always like that.”

– Trump’s tax cuts are helping to shift public opinion against the wealthy. Many, many Americans in the middle class and lower middle class — including his supporters — are just now finding out that they owe taxes this year, even though they have the same income as last year and have always received a refund in the past. They are furious.

– Pair that with this kind of news: UnitedHealth, an insurance company, gained $1.7 billion in profits for 2018 due to the tax cut — and you can feel the heat from the anger rising.

– Related: Over 500,000 US families go bankrupt from medical bills every year.

– And then there’s this: Forty-two people hold the same wealth as half the world.

– And this: The richest one percent received 82 percent of wealth created last year. The poorest half of humanity got nothing.

– And this: Over the last 30 years, Americans aged 45 or younger have become poorer, while Americans over 65 have become significantly richer. (NYT)

– Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has suggested we need to return to a 70% or higher top marginal tax rate. Fox News was taken by surprise when they polled their viewers and found out the vast majority of them support the idea. It’s a very popular policy at the moment. 

– Here’s a fascinating/terrifying thread on how a billionaire could see climate change as “good for business.”

– People are exasperated with welfare for corporations. For example, GM is planning to send pink slips to more than 14,000 workers and close three plants and two factories in North America this year. At the same time: “Under Trump, GM has received more than $600 million in federal contracts, plus $500 million in tax breaks. This is generous socialism for the wealthy and corporations, cold, hard capitalism for American workers.”

– In another example, the New York Times reports that Trump himself has taken over $885 million in taxpayer subsidies.

If an individual is earning massive wealth from a company that receives taxpayer subsidies, how is that justified? Clearly, the company doesn’t need the subsidies, and that money could go to other programs — perhaps toward education, medical care, and affordable housing. Should those companies and individuals be required to pay back the subsidies, with interest?

– The insulin issue I linked to last week (also in the NYT) is another illustration of this. Based on the history of this life-saving drug, insulin should be so cheap it’s essentially free. Instead there are no doubt very wealthy people who are growing even wealthier by holding millions of diabetic Americans hostage by jacking up the prices of insulin.


– A hallmark of Trump’s tax cut is that shareholder payouts topped a whopping $1 trillion by the second quarter of 2018.

– New York Magazine has an article about how our country’s founders felt concentrated wealth was incompatible with democracy. “America’s first political theorists took these truths to be self-evident: that a person could not exercise political liberty if he did not possess a modicum of economic autonomy, and that disparities in wealth inevitably produced disparities of political power.”


To me, it feels like pitchforks are coming. The time of glamorizing billionaires is over, and instead they are being seen as suspect and immoral. Recent articles with topics like how to protect fine art on yachts make the average American gag.

I’ve noticed it too, in the reactions to billionaire Howard Schultz who is considering a run for president. I keep seeing commentary along the lines of: Why should he run for president? How does having immense wealth qualify someone to be president? So he thinks he can just buy the election?

My suggestion to Howard, and to other billionaires who are sensing the pitchforks, is this: Pick an issue. For example, you could pick insulin. Use your vast resources and wealth to solve the problem. Be the person who makes insulin virtually free and ensures there are legal protections in place to keep it that way forevermore. And then, perhaps, Americans will think more fondly of you.

One take I’ve heard is that animosity toward the very wealthy simply encourages them to take their money elsewhere. When I hear that my mind goes first to this thought: Sounds good, go find your Ayn Rand secret island so we never have to hear your silly name again.

But then, my mind goes to appropriate consequences. Your wealth came from America but you don’t want to use it to benefit America? You fled the country? Okay then, you’ll be stripped of your passport and citizenship. Any assets you might owe the country in back taxes or subsidies you received will be frozen. You’ll be prevented from participating in the American financial system (like the stock market or real estate market) so that you can’t benefit further from American dollars. You’ll not be allowed back in our borders and never permitted a visitor visa. Stuff like that.

What is your take? Do you agree that Americans are shifting their opinions about the very wealthy? Or are you seeing something different? Do you have an opinion on top marginal tax rates? Do you think that’s too high or would you prefer even higher than 70%? What do you predict will play out in our country, and across the world, as income inequality continues to grow? 


Photo credit: Art of Revolution

108 thoughts on “America’s Mood: Eat The Rich”

  1. I think that much of the trouble that has come in American economic policy is that many Americans identify with the rich because they believe in the “American dream”–they are not rich now, they’re nowhere near rich now, but they believe someday they will be. They identify as “future rich”, no matter what social scientists or cold hard reality say about their actual prospects.

    Add that to poor grasp of statistics, scapegoating xenophobia, and intentional muddling of what it means to be “rich”–people lump an upper middle class salary with millions and billions in wealth, when they are vastly different in kind!–and you get decades of people voting against their own self interests as well as the interests of their fellow citizens. Meanwhile a very small set of people loots the economy and strips the country down for parts–often believing all the while that it’s their God-given right and actually good for us to do so.

    It’s been almost fifty years of this. Maybe enough additional people have finally realized that they are not “future rich”–they never were–and that in fact the odds have never been so stacked against them in this last half-century.

    The other thing that needs to happen is for people to also realize that this isn’t an accident of nature or God-given reality, but the result of policies we have chosen–and that we have the power to choose differently.

    One outstanding question is whether billionaires actually feel the heat. You’d think if the choice is a generous 70% marginal tax rate or guillotines, you’d obviously pick the former! You get to live, get to live in a society that is *not* disgustingly stratified, and you still remain ridiculously wealthy! But if you think you can make your getaway to your bunker in New Zealand or wherever..if you already believe your power and wealth is stronger than nations or “the mob”…why bother compromising? I don’t know which way that’s going to go. :/

    (Fortunately, we don’t actually need billionaires’ consent to make change.)

    1. I was literally having the same thoughts this morning, and then came across your comment to this article. Your assessment of people thinking they will be “future rich” who never will and then voting against their interests is SPOT ON. Thanks for sharing

    2. I completely agree and love the term “future rich.” I know many social conservatives that defend their republican votes for folks like Trump by defending economic policies that help the super rich. When questioned on this, I can tell that they believe that someday they will fall into the category of people who benefit from abolishing estate taxes.

  2. I don’t think anything will happen. Very rich people also have great influence in political concerns. Trump has taught us this.

    It has always been The People versus The Few Very Rich. Only when the Few Very Rich are good do we get stuff like The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution: when the very few Very Rich are corrupt, we get stuff like The French Revolution.

    I don’t think we’re at revolution point yet.

    1. I agree. It’s just a beginning. Not enough people are mad. They are too busy buying Kylie Jenner’s makeup and making her the richest Kardashian.

      1. I think if the Ayn Rand keep changing political rules to sustain power, you’ll see universal health care, wealth reform and electoral reform in a decade

  3. “But then, my mind goes to appropriate consequences. Your wealth came from America but you don’t want to use it to benefit America? Okay then, you’ll be stripped of your passport and citizenship. Any assets you might owe the country in back taxes or unneeded subsidies will be frozen. You’ll be prevented from participating in the American financial system (like the stock market or real estate market) so that you can’t benefit further from American dollars. You’ll not be allowed back in our borders and never permitted a visitor visa. Stuff like that.”
    Fierce & awesome!
    Obviously that eliminates voting. Also, no more political contributions to further shape the system.

  4. I have many thoughts, but here are a few: I agree that we as a society have generally decided that taxes are a good way to even things out–the problem is that there are so many loopholes that the wealthy barely pay any taxes, even with higher tax rates. I think fixing those is key. I also think that punishing the wealthy (by stripping them of citizenship, freezing assests, etc.) will not only drive some of these people out of the country, it will also drive out a lot of the business and innovation that keeps this country moving forward and drives our economy–I’ve seen this happen in the countries I’ve lived in overseas, and those driven emigrants usually come to America. On a more philosophical level, I’m curious as to why are people angry at Howard Schultz just for being rich (I get why they would question his qualifications, or be angry at him for potentially splitting the Democratic vote.) He is rich because millions of people have decided they like and want to buy his product, and his product is arguably not nearly as damaging to people or the world as OxyContin, or the Koch brothers’ chemicals. Are they angry with him because he doesn’t give away enough of his wealth? How much should he give away? Are they upset at his business practices? What would redeem him? Being angry with someone who’s earned money because people want to buy something they make, and who has grown a company in a way that they can make and sell a lot of it, just seems odd to me. (And I don’t even like Starbucks!) I’m genuinely curious.

    1. I don’t think they’re mad at him just because he’s rich. You named the reasons why they’re mad: being rich doesn’t qualify someone to be president and he’ll split the Democratic vote. He assumes he’ll be taken seriously as a presidential candidate, and the reason he assumes that is because he’s a billionaire. That’s pretty gross. I can see why people are totally turned off.

      P.S. — My suggestions along the lines of stripping citizenship were directed toward the idea of billionaires who have already fled the country with their money. Not a preemptive punishment, but a consequence for taking the money and leaving America to rot.

      1. What DOES qualify someone to be president? A genuine question I’m pondering myself. It seems like there are always people on both sides, especially at the beginning of a primary season, that are “not qualified.” Is one brand of “not qualified” less worthy than another? If people don’t think he’s qualified and don’t want to vote for him, presumably his candidacy would be short lived.

        1. Good question. I know when women are interested in running for office, they are often told to start with the school board, or a city position. Perhaps that’s where Howard Schultz should start and work his way up from there.

          1. If Schultz truly thinks he’s qualified to run the country and wants to be respected as a viable candidate, he could enter the Democratic primary and see how he stacks up in debates against the other candidates. If he’s competent and people like his ideas, fine, he’ll advance past the primary and get to run in the general election. The problem (as far as I understand it) is that his vast wealth allows him to circumvent that system and run as an independent, so his lack of experience and competence won’t prevent him from making it to the general election. They will prevent him from WINNING the general election, most likely, but he’ll still be able to enter the election and siphon votes off from the Democratic candidate, creating a steeper challenge for anyone who wants to defeat Trump.

            By contrast, Michael Bloomberg is another billionaire who may run for president, but he’s mulling running as a Democrat. So he’d have to go through the primary process, where his mettle as a potential presidential contender would be tested and voters could voice their opinion before the general election.

          2. P.S. My response was not meant to disagree with the suggestion that Schultz should start with a school board or city position – I think that’s exactly right, if he’s serious about pursuing political office. My answer was a response to EM’s question about how many unqualified candidates there are on both sides at the start of the primary season. I think that’s true and that the primaries are intended to weed those candidates out. And I’m frustrated that Howard Schultz is able to use his wealth to skip that process.

      2. I think the reason he presumes he’ll be taken seriously is because the current president is a businessman & reality TV star! The standards, or “qualifications,” as Em says below, for being president have completely shifted. Historically many questioned the candidacy/qualifications of people like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura, who had little to no experience in politics, but I think we’ve moved beyond that. I don’t think being a billionaire/actor/reality TV star qualifies someone to be president, but running a successful business probably gives you a lot of relevant experience. And I say this as someone who a) hates Trump and b) has worked in the federal government and in small businesses.

        1. I know what you mean, and I totally agree that Trump’s election changed the qualification rules. But I still say Schultz presumes he’ll be taken seriously because he’s a billionaire and knows he can buy air time or buy media coverage or buy an interview to make himself heard.

      3. Laura, I think people are mad because citizens are dying due to lack of healthcare. Because people have to raise funds for their cancer treatments through gofundme. Because so many schools suck due to reduced state funding. Because we have this gigantic deficit due to taxes that get slashed lower and lower. Because our infrastructure is crumbling. Because we used to have much, much higher taxes and people are acting like it’s this freakishly unAmerican idea. Those might be some ideas why so many people are so pissed off right now about inequality.

  5. There isn’t a short answer.

    I’d like to see the super rich (and everyone else for that matter) pay their front line staff a living wage. It is wonderful that they want to be philanthropists and give money or causes that they believe to be ‘deserving’, but it infuriates me that their generosity rarely extends to paying their workers a living, or dare I venture it – even a generous wage. Are you really working hard for your money when you are fleecing your staff? How much money does one person really need? I’m in Canada, so I’m looking at you, Galen Weston.

    Unfortunately, there is a direct line of communication between the super wealthy and politicians – they can afford to pay for lobbying on behalf of ridiculous ideas, such as pizza being a vegetable, or the NRA buying most of congress and the senate. Until someone with an ethical back bone cuts that line, you will have tax laws with loop holes that allow the rich to hide their money in tax-free havens and off shore accounts. And maybe there needs to be some public naming and shaming of the rich such as the members of U2 or Canadian tennis stars that were glad to have the government fund their junior development, and repay Canadian taxpayers by hiding their assets where they won’t have to pay tax on their income.

    I feel like there is going to be a lot of civil unrest if things don’t change, and I’m not sure the pendulum can swing back the other way quickly enough, or maybe it has swung so far it won’t come back? Steven Pinker can paint as bright a picture as he wants, but don’t gloss over the millions of people suffering in poverty, without access to clean water or to free healthcare, suffering in refugee camps, dying in civil wars waged over greed and oil.

    I don’t begrudge people their wealth if they come by it honestly, and pay their workers a living wage, with decent benefits, and pay their share of taxes to the country they are living and earning in. I think Howard Schulz probably falls into that category, but I agree with your suggestion that he shouldn’t wait for the political platform to start ‘waging good’ in the world.

    I’m all for a wealth tax.

    Even Warren Buffet thinks he should pay more in taxes.

    Thanks for sharing this blog post, Gabby!

  6. Yes, yes, yes! I have never been more disgusted by the rich than I am now. Thank you so much for putting all of this in one place–it’s very powerful and reading all of this really helps me to articulate my feelings into a more cogent argument…although eat the rich is pretty much the sum of it! :)

  7. But… what counts as “wealthy” or “rich” in this conversation? It’s easy to look at someone who appears richer than myself/yourself and say THEM — but I also know there are plenty of people who would say that I am the wealthy/rich one. And I drive a 20+ year old car, carry thousands in credit card debt, and live pretty much paycheck-to-paycheck. I wouldn’t consider myself wealthy or rich — not by a long shot! But in comparison to some? I AM wealthy. Is it morally or ethically right to point fingers and make decisions about who deserves or doesn’t? Do I ‘deserve’ what I have??

    Deciding that ‘We The People’ need to police the wealth & related rights of others is a fine edge and a slippery slope. It’s easy to turn a pitchfork-filled charge into a political -ism from which we all suffer. I applaud constructive conversation, but am always wary of “Them vs. Us” — because we’re each a “Them” to someone else’s viewpoint.

    1. Oh. I thought it was clear we were talking about the Davos set. Which you and I and almost all Americans are not a part of. : )

      I don’t know. I think it’s a cop out to say well, it’s a grey area to decide how wealthy is too wealthy, so we probably shouldn’t discuss this or attempt to find a solution. I think any one is justified in defending this statement: The 42 people who hold as much wealth as the poorest 50% of the world’s population are too rich, and it’s immoral (or maybe straight up evil) to hoard that amount of resources.

      1. Yes, I agree with this wholeheartedly! There is obviously a grey area, but there is obviously also an area that is black and white. $200,000 might sound like a life riches to one person, but just enough to pay the bills for another, but we can all agree one does not need to own 1 billion dollars. We shouldn’t avoid taking action in that black and white area just because there is an area where people might not agree.

      2. There are 540 billionaires in the US. They may own a lot of assets, but until they sell them, they don’t get taxed on it. There aren’t enough billionaires, taxed at 70% of their INCOME or capital gains to make a significant impact. I’m not sure how you can make people pay taxes on their net worth, but the is what would need to be done. Also, need to cut out all of the tax deductions and loopholes.

        1. Originally the majority of the tax code dealt with collecting taxes. But then the IRS started using taxes to incentive behavior. Now the majority of the tax code deals with tax incentives. The government wants people own homes, go to school, have kids, save for retirement, etc. so the way they incentive people to do that is to reduce or eliminate their taxes. When the government wants wealthy American investors to invest a certain way they incentivize them by saying they won’t have to pay taxes. Then something terrible happens, wealthy Americans do what the IRS wants them to do and they get the tax “loopholes” or as the IRS prefers to call them, incentives. Then Americans who dont behave in the way the irs wants them to get mad. If someone is making a lot of money and legally paying no taxes, they’re not a tax evader. They’re a great American. In the IRS’s opinion they are doing a service to the economy and to the country that outweighs what the irs would collect in taxes from them.

  8. Let me open with, as a retired couple, our income hasn’t changed for a few years, but thanks to the new tax laws, we are *paying* this year! whoo hoo! Thank you Trump and his supporters! I love paying more taxes now -not.

    I think one point that seems to be lost on the folks over at FOX is that when A.O.C. asks for the 70% tax on the rich, that tax only begins *after* the exceeded bench mark, meaning the bottom part of their BILLIONS would not be taxed at 70%, just at certain portion at the top… that taxable income that is *above* $10MILLION. They also don’t mention how folks with incomes above $10m have access to experts who help them hide their money so that it becomes legally “un-taxable” (like on a luxury yacht). So that…

    An article you posted a few weeks back included one where a woman included herself as one of those who was receiving tax free money each month from her millionaire parents. Part of her article explained that in millionaire brackets, one who has $10M is considered a “low” or essentially, a poor millionaire, not a billionaire, but on the poor side to be sure. Someone who has $10m can easily live on the *interest* alone with all the benefits of theatre, higher education for their children, vacations, etc… on “the interest alone –and still afford to gift each of their children $3,000 a month TAX FREE” – so um, there’s that too.

    Question: Who in Trumps base looks forward to making $10M+ this year?

    I have been concerned for decades that there is this philosophy that as long as it is ‘legal’ it should be ‘ok’, “it’s SMART!”, meaning that ethics and moralities of business can go out with the bathwater as long as one can find a loophole that legally allows for (insert whatever action can be applied). For instance, when my husband worked for a Union, it was illegal for anyone other than an employee of said union to drive a union owned vehicle. However, for his brother, who owns a corporation, as long as his brother gives permission, *anyone* can drive that corporate owned vehicle. So a spouse of a union employee drives a union owned vehicle out of the driveway and park it in the street, the union member could go to prison, while the spouse of the corporation owner could drive across country without breaking any federal laws. Tax laws are also extremely different for corporations than for individuals and or unions. But those tax laws are legal, so it’s all good, and SMART!, right?

    And again, unfortunately, what is legal for some (corporations, the wealthy) is not the same for others (unions, the poor).

    1. I remember having a conversation years ago with a family member who is an accountant. He said “You can legally claim ….. and deduct ……” and I remember thinking at the time that just because something is legal does not make it ethical. That family member is a millionaire and has earned his money from both hard work and taking advantage of things that are ‘legal’, but which I consider to be unethical.

      Basically, I believe tax laws are made by the wealthy to benefit the wealthy.

      Another thing that bothers me is the superior attitude of many rich people – they believe they are better than others just because they have lots of money, regardless of how they came into that money. Too many very rich people believe that their money gives them more rights than the less wealthy.

  9. I think a marginal tax rate should happen, and all loop-holes, write-offs, tax-sheltering, and “tax exiling” should be halted. However, we should also be looking at any sort of accounting “magicking” that allows for erroneous claims of “not making a profit” to be stopped (I’m looking at you, Hollywood accounting). Google, for example, has taken advantage of various countries tax codes to funnel billions to the Bermudas.

    Of course, there are studies that show high tax rates stifle innovation, which I don’t think anyone wants either. It’s certainly a balance.

    The issue is that many of the lobbyists in DC have deeper pockets than the average citizen could ever dream of having, so I’m skeptical meaningful change could happen. It’s one thing for AOC to go on her Twitter and a handful of TV shows and talk about the marginal tax rate. Actually getting the necessary votes in Congress to ensure it happens is an entirely different thing.

    Oh? And as someone who has lost a family member due to opioid addiction (and has several other family members either currently addicted or actively managing their sobriety), the Sackler family has blood on their hands. Did you read where they also patented a drug to help wean people off opioids? How generous of them. They make a buck off turning people into addicts, and then make a buck weaning these people off their drugs. And, hey, if the sobriety thing doesn’t work out, I’m sure the Sackler family would be more than happy to get you right back on the pills.

    1. The Sacklers dammit. If our country doesn’t figure out the legal means to take their money, give it to opioid recovery efforts, and lock them away, then I give up.

      1. Yesssssss. I live in WV. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t been personally touched by the opioid epidemic. And we know who is to blame. People are mad.

  10. I will never understand how someone can make millions upon millions in the US, own 5 houses, 10 cars, 2 airplanes and somehow not see anything wrong with their fellow citizens not having basic health care for their children. Oh and these people call themselves Christian to boot! Every day, I thank the Lord that my ancestors continued north to Canada after landing in Boston from Ireland!

    1. Exactly! And American culture makes fun of Canada and Canadians so often. Canada’s systems are not all perfect but the rich are taxed, social services are good, and nobody feels super ripped off by their government and billionaires.

  11. How about those folks who are crying for greater taxation of the rich be the first to step forward and pay more on their own accord all in the name of equalization. I’m sure the IRS will take their money. There’s a lot of wealthy liberals (Hollywood stars, sports figures, etc. etc.) out there. And a lot of good could come from their money. What a great example they’d be. I like those who put their money where their mouth is. And I’m guessing I’d be on the receiving end.

    1. The higher tax rate would affect people who earn more than $10 million each year. I’m sure plenty of people in Hollywood would be affected and I’m glad you’ve seen them supporting the idea.

      As for athletes, I’ll quote AOC: “The average NFL salary is $2.1 million, so most players would never experience a 70% rate.

      The owners who refuse to hire Kaepernick would, though.”

      1. That’s my point… If you’re liberal, super rich (by whatever means/occupation) and you believe in a higher taxation, then start paying 70% now. If you are a liberal (by whatever means/occupation) and pretty dang rich (less than 10 million but still many million) and believe in a higher taxation, then start paying 50% or 60% tax or whatever their tax rate would be. Anyone can pay more taxes if they feel like they want to contribute more or would need to contribute more given a different tax structure. All in the name of equalization. The government would love the extra money, I’m sure. And I’m sure we could all think of productive ways the money could be used.

        1. I guess my first question is: why does it have to be just liberals? Did you not see the link I included about Fox News viewers and how they overwhelmingly approve of ideas like a higher marginal tax rate? This isn’t a liberal vs. conservative issue. Everything I’ve read describes people across the political spectrum and how they are done with the wealthy not paying their fair share in taxes.

          Is there a reason you see it as partisan?

          1. I’m sure the IRS will be happy to take extra tax dollars from anyone (whatever your political view points) “because you just feel like you should be contributing more”. I’d be the first to congratulate anyone who did. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seems to be leading the charge at the 70% rate so those that agree with her are more often than not to be leaning to the left as s
            he does. I’d like to see those that agree with her be the first to step forward and pay, that’s all. Why wait to pay until the tax laws change. The government seems to need more money now. Lead by example.

          2. Karen, because it seems that most folks who agree with AOC that taxable income *over $10 million* should reasonably be charged a 70% tax rate are not ourselves making anywhere near $10 million? The point is that these $10-millionaires (and up, up, UP) truly can pay a 70% tax on the money *over $10 million* and never see a change in their lifestyle. I’d be delighted to see multimillionaires of any stripe offer to pay more in taxes, but that’s a fairly unrealistic expectation. You seem to be preaching that Gabby’s readers should be stepping up in some way, but none of us are multimillionaires, almost certainly.

  12. I listened to a podcast that talked about effective altruism and it really stuck with me. One estimate says that the Gates Foundation has already saved more than 58 million lives. With millions more to come. Am I begrudging the millions that people like the Gates have kept for themselves? Not at all. Money drives innovation including innovations that can change lives for people all over the world. I agree with the other poster who said it’s a slippery slope when we decide to police others regarding wealth and how we choose to spend it.

    1. I’ve been a big fan of Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation until someone started breaking down the numbers for me. The Gates Foundation could do the same amount of work they currently do, AND Bill Gates could pay a fair tax which would affect many more tens of millions of people positively, AND he would still be rich beyond comprehension.

      His net worth is $90 BILLION. If he’s holding on to more than say $20 million, he’s hoarding.

      It’s never going to make sense to depend on the altruism of rich people to save the world. “Let’s stop talking about philanthropy and start talking about tax avoidance.”

      P.S. — The $20 million reference comes from a comment on my Instagram post that said wealthy business owners have said that once you get over $20 million, more money doesn’t really make a difference in your life.

      1. He’s hoarding? It’s HIS money. While there could and perhaps should be adjustments to tax laws, I certainly wouldn’t depend on government’s altruism, either. What you’re talking about is wealth redistribution and it’s a frightening prospect. I know this has been brought up and I’m a little late to the conversation, but this is when “relative wealth” comes in. It’s very abstract to us when we’re talking about the Bill Gates of this country but wealth redistribution is a real thing that could touch all of us.

    2. Just FYI, taxing the wealthy at high levels is not a new concept in this country. We just feel like it is since the Reagan era. The very wealthy used to be taxed at a whopping 93%. That sounds kind of extreme to me, but 40% is ridiculous. How about 60%? How many yachts do wealthy individuals really need?? When people can stop filing medical bankruptcy, then let’s talk about a “slippery slope.” Until then, I (and, it turns out, a majority of Americans) are pretty much over that argument.

    3. For me, it’s not just the amount of money that the Gates family (and others) are keeping out of society, it’s that by virtue of that money, they get to decide how to solve collective problems with virtually no oversight. Take education, for example. Should the Koch brothers get to decide what K-12 schools look like? Or the Gates Foundation: Should they get to decide when poverty rates have been lowered enough? When we’re talking about wide-ranging social problems, I think it’s only appropriate that we decide courses of action more democratically. You can’t do that if all of this money only flows through private foundations.

      1. Yes. This is such a key point. I think that people who assume billionaires will do the right thing with their money, are imagining those billionaires share their same values and priorities. But of course, that’s not likely.

      2. The Gates Foundation has done some damage in Seattle around education- funding grants that public schools come to depend on, then stopping programs on a whim. I don’t want the super rich to meddle in what questions should be a public decision. They could just pay more taxes and Washington schools could recieve the proper funding.

  13. I’m safe from the mob. I am nowhere near a billionaire. Before we had billionaires, being a millionaire was a thing. The internet changed all that. Also, back in Econ class in the 90s wealth disparity already called for a revolution. Sooo… I won’t be shocked when it happens. I do have a “friend” who may be a billionaire. She is not American. Though she lives there part time. The crap she deals with would be unbearable. She is too cool for me though which is why friend was in quotes.

  14. Hm. Interesting topics. Interesting links. Although, after reading them my mind keeps circling back to something I tell my young kids daily: Life isn’t fair.

    It’s not fair that billionaires have so much money, and so many others have so little. The rich didn’t “earn” that money by working harder than the little guy or being more deserving. But they did something to create value for someone — took a risk, started a business, made something that millions of people wanted to buy — and it paid off for them. So from that perspective, they are entitled to their money, even if it’s not fair that they have so much.

    I definitely think the tax system needs to be fixed so that the rich are paying their fair share. Maybe increase the tax rate for capital gains and investment income. I’m fine with increasing the top marginal tax rate to 70%. My concern is the idea that once the rich are taxed more, the Federal government will be able (and willing) to use those funds to effectively help solve all the problems that you mention. Who is to say the extra revenue won’t be used to fund more wars, more drones, more big aid payments to South American dictators? On the other hand, when generous and wealthy individuals like Bill & Melinda Gates decide to use their billions to help society, they have the connections and the corporate experience to do so in a targeted and effective way. So maybe instead of the government just taking 70% of everything over $10 million, the rich should be able to choose to give that money to charity instead.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking topic. Your passion/anger is evident.

    1. Just wanted to add — I know the Democrats have a plan to use the extra revenue for a Green New Deal. But the balance of power changes constantly. What would the Republicans use the money for? Probably just more tax breaks to corporations. My point is that I just don’t think we can trust government to solve society’s problems, no matter how much tax money they have.

    2. I think it’s interesting to think about charity vs. taxation in terms of WHO gets to decide where resources are directed. While reading the book “Strangers in Their Own Land,” I came to understand that some people prefer charity to taxation, even if the money goes to the same cause, because then they get to (1) feel in control of the money, and (2) be heroes/thanked for their generosity, rather than forced to turn over the money to the government via taxes.

      The problem is that in a charity-based system, the ultra-rich get to decide where money goes. So the charities and causes they choose are aligned with their perspectives, politics, and priorities. By contrast, yes, politics is still dominated by white men, but the US Congress at least is becoming increasingly diverse (including socioeconomically), which means that more diverse voices are going into the conversation about where resources are directed.

      (Really interesting and thoughtful topics this week! Thank you, Gabby.)

    3. Hi Sarah,
      I’ve been struck recently by how often I shut down my children’s gripes of “That’s not fair!” with the same retort as you: “Well, life’s not fair.” And, in doing that, I am essentially telling them that “fairness” doesn’t exist. Why am I doing that? Fairness should exist and we should all be leading that charge!! Children have such a keen sense of fairness. They value it strongly which is why they are always, always saying “That’s not fair!” And, while it’s a bit much to hear them say “That’s not fair” about who’s slice of cake is bigger and who’s scoop of ice cream is bigger, I (we all) need to remember that valuing fairness is a good thing and that encouraging it, acknowledging it, fighting for it on all levels is good and should be held up in a family setting. The complete shut down that the phrase “Life’s not fair” causes just does give life enough credit–or our children the chance to imagine a world that is fair. Fight for fairness!! But, with nuance, of course…as in 70% tax rate for the super rich doesn’t sound fair, but it is for many, many, many reasons and would create a much fairer slice of the American pie for everyone…see, my kiddos were right after all, the size of everyone’s dessert is important!!

      Thanks for the great links, Gabby and for the forum to chat about these things! I am loving the comments so much!

  15. Wow! I remember commenting on that post! I just went back to read my comment and I still feel the same way and struggle with the same issues. Also, I think that I was more articulate in 2017. :) So here is part of my post from back then:

    Personally, I continually struggle with the thought that my husband & I should be earning more so that our children would be privy to ALL the advantages, which is usually followed a day later by the thought that I should be willing to give more to those in our community that need it. And, just to be clear, if we gave financially at the rate that some of these millionaires & billionaires do, it would be the cost of a dinner and a movie.

    1. The term I am really interested in lately is “Opportunity Hoarding”–the social forces that make parents feel that they need to be in the know (and in the green!) in order for their children to succeed (in many, many ways this is true!) Opportunity hoarding is ruining the fabric of community and making so difficult for people to reach out to help those on the rung below them, fearing that whoever they help will grab a rare opportunity that they could have had for themselves. I’m just sick over how the math in how we feel about opportunity is all screwed up. It doesn’t divide. It multiplies!

  16. If Billionaires didn’t get their money at the expense of others, I might not care about their wealth. I think of Jeff Bezos raking it in, when your average Amazon worker is barely scraping by. Or as you mentioned the Sacklers and all of Big Pharma preying on the regular and poor people of America. And how the rich not only have the best tax system but also the bet gov’t lobbying and campaign donation system. Then I get angry. It seems like it’s going to be a hard system to break…. It’s hard not to feel a little hopeless, when it seems like the best way for me to influence the system is contribute $20 to a campaign fund and call my representatives. Do they care? only a little.

  17. I am so sick of people like Betsy f-ing DeVos, heiress extraordinaire, owning ten yachts while our fellow citizens die because of lack of insurance. Or people dying because insulin, a cheap drug that has been around for decades, has had its price artificially boosted (while the CEO is a multimillionaire). It’s disgusting. We’re a normal, middle-class family with enough money to save for retirement and go on an occasional vacation, but I think we should actually pay a little more in taxes. For the common good. The wealthy and super-wealthy should pay a whole heck of a lot more. Truckloads more. I want the wealthy to be soaked in taxes.

  18. Wait, wait, wait, Design Mom! I agree with everything you said, except about the part about stripping the rich of their citizenship — you MUST know, after living in France, that the USA is the only country that taxes its citizens worldwide, so that no matter where you live, you are liable to pay US taxes. Stripping the rich of their citizenship will free them from that obligation.
    The tax system needs to be changed so that the rich pay progressively more, that’s it.

    It drives me crazy when the citizens don’t see that it is stable financial & judicial institutions, and a healthy and educated work force that has ALLOWED them to be in the position to accumulate their riches. They should be the first ones to want to support (judicious) government spending!

    I live in Germany, and we pay 42% tax after an income of 70K euros. It’s a lot of tax, sure, but I get something for it! Free university for my kids, and I’m driving on pothole-free roads and using nice public swimming pools.

    The super-rich WON’T abandon the USA – the US has amenities that no other country has. Generally, countries where you pay less tax are not as attractive as the citizenship of countries where you pay more (Europe, e.g.) – and they are not ‘home’.

    Please don’t talk about stripping people of their citizenship. That feels personal to me. I have lived overseas over twenty years and must pay tax to both Germany (country of residence) and the USA (because it is the ONLY country that makes its citizens pay tax no matter where they live!). It would be simpler and cheaper for me to renounce my US citizenship and become German, but I (so far) can’t do it: I love my country of birth. No one should have their citizenship stripped against their will.

    1. When we were in Germany this summer (as US citizens) we had to take our daughter to the emergency room (obviously unexpected) where she had to have an MRI and an ambulance ride. We were surrounded by competent, kind and bilingual doctors the entire time and her care was quick and efficient. The entire visit cost us — and we had to pay cash for the rack rate –about $750. In the States is would have been more than 10 times the cost.

      1. Kate, that is such an excellent point. The medical community and pharma companies have too many powerful lobbyists that prevent any substantial progress on addressing med costs. It’s so enraging.

  19. I laughed at (and loved) this: “Sounds good, go find your Ayn Rand secret island so we never have to hear your silly name again.” Indeed!

    My thoughts on this are linked intrinsically to my personal situation. My husband and I both work full-time. I am a university professor; he is a librarian. After taxes, we take home less than $40,000 a year. With our mortgage payment, my student loan debt, and (following treatment for breast cancer a year ago) my medical debt, we are in a hole that we can seemingly never earn our way out of. And we’re just one emergency (our car dying; our furnace giving out) away from disaster. Is this fair? It is certainly not unusual.

    But how is this connected to the wealthy? For me, I think it has to do with three issues: tax avoidance, a living minimum wage, and medical costs. I am fully on board with AOC’s 70% tax proposal. It is absolutely essential to not only ensure that billionaires aren’t sheltering their wealth offshore, but also that they are proportionally investing in the nation’s infrastructure and social services. Meanwhile, tax rates should be cut for the middle- and lower-classes. Not eliminated, but cut.

    All the stats out there show that wages and salaries have not kept up with the cost of living. That simply needs to change. If employers can’t afford to pay their employees what they need to live, then the system is broken at another level as well.

    And medical costs–woof, do I know this one first-hand. Did you know that each round of chemo cost $60000? Even with “good” insurance, I owed $12000 after treatment, and the costs continue to mount with my follow-up visits and medicine. Please, please–medicaid for all, socialized health care, something other than the predatory mess we have now.

  20. my friend walked out of Russia in the fifties with all their family and only what they could carry…who decides who is rich? Her Dad was just a doctor…but they had a larger home than most and were asked to share that home with another family ….then a few months later another family….until they all lived in just two rooms of the house……they were paid as much as the butcher …. their wealth taken which was very modest…. in the form of higher taxes…..Would you give up your beautiful home to share with other families and your wealth shared and hard labor … socialist countries people work only so much and hide the rest of their labors …. and we are talking just everyday laborers…where are your dreams of working hard….and having the freedom to live , travel, ……your work values change when the government takes it….in ancient scriptures the Lord gives us a flat ten percent and the freedom to do with the rest what we will…. I know many billionaires and millionaires…..they pay taxes….millions…. I have also served and done humanatirian work with them in many countries….I have lived in socialist countries… husband owns companies where they had to have two people some times three work the job of one …..just so they could still get benefits….offered by the government…. we have closed offices where we can no longer continue to hire or grow because the government continues to take the profits….prohibiting growth and new hire…… robing the rich so we are all the same have the same… kills your work drive…. makes us average….we are meant to dream BIG….Dreams are made on hard work…….Most give… when they have… whether rich or poor….dreams drive growth….

    1. I think it’s a pretty big leap from “the very wealthy should pay higher taxes” to “people are going to force you to start sharing your home with other families.”

      1. Agreed. And really, when we say “the very wealthy should pay higher taxes,” we’re really saying “the very wealthy should stop tax avoidance and pay their fair share.” How is that a controversial thing to say?

  21. I was raised in a middle class home and went to public school and then went to college with the help of scholarships. Then, when my father’s company was sold and I was just out of college, he retired with several million dollars. Eventually, he gave my husband and I enough to buy a home. It’s weird. It’s unfair. But also – I currently work as a preschool teacher and make $14 an hour, and my husband is a first responder. With the skyrocketing home prices in our area, we could not afford a home otherwise. I have incredibly mixed feelings about the whole thing. This gift has enabled us to stay in service-oriented careers. But I did nothing to earn this money other than have my father as my father.

    My personal situation makes me believe more in higher taxes, not less, and my family would not even qualify for the proposed 70% tax level. With higher taxes including inheritance taxes, I believe that all teachers, first responders, and others in low-wage jobs or service fields could be paid more. We could all afford homes, and not have to worry about putting food on the table. To me, higher taxes are about equity and the inherent dignity of all people.

  22. I think giving corporations the same rights as people is a huge part of income inequality, as is allowing them to operate without paying fair amounts of taxes or account for negative externalities. Given that corporations are creations of the state – which permits them to operate w/ limited liability to the people running them – I have zero problems limiting corporate freedoms of expression/or “rights” to political speech. If we taxed corporations properly and limited their voice in politics, I wonder if people would still be clamoring to tax the super-rich at very high rates…

    1. Thank you for the link! It’s super helpful. So many good examples. And I agree that some people commenting seem to conflate millionaires and billionaires. People who have saved up a million dollars (or close to it) seem to feel threatened by this conversation, but it has nothing to do with them. They are not extremely wealthy. They are no billionaires.

      There was an example in the comments on my Instagram post about this topic that I appreciated. If you had a billion dollars, you could spent $1000 every single day — SINCE THE TIME OF CHRIST — and still have hundreds of millions in the bank. (And of course, that doesn’t account for the billion dollars growing all that time.)

      It’s unfathomable wealth, and I don’t know how it’s justified.

  23. I am sad reading the majority of these responses and unfortunately think this is an echo chamber. I believe if you take the risk, you should get the reward and what you do with your money is your own business. Right now my family is DREAMING The American Dream. We’re not wealthy, but we’re putting in the hard work now to hopefully be able to retire. My generation HAS to have millions set aside to even dream about retirement. (I’m a Millenial.) It’s not because we make a lot of money, but because we’re frugal and believe in planning for the future. Do I think the government should get half of my money when I die… NOPE. Do I think I’m better at stewarding my money than the government is… YUP!

    I really love your posts about your family, your beautiful home (what drew me to your blog in the first place), but your political posts and the vitriol that emits from them… is very deflating. :(

    It may be the 10m now, but it’s always a slippery slope. THIS is what causes trouble. THIS is what I don’t agree with. When you give power and autonomy over to a third party, you have no power and no autonomy. This is why I do not understand people’s excitement to use government power to “punish” the group they find deserving. Today it’s the “wealthy”, tomorrow it could be a group you identify with.

    First they came for the Jews
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for the Communists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Communist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a trade unionist.

    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left
    to speak out for me.
    Martin Niemöller

    1. Wait. What? Did you just try to use that well-known and well-loved poem to classify billionaires as a class of people in need of protection? Protection like the Jews needed in WWII?

      1. I have learned from history that governments with too much power can come after any group.

        I’m sorry for the confusion of using the poem. I don’t feel comfortable with the pitchforks coming out against the “wealthy.” Wealth is a very subjective classification, depending on the person you’re talking to.

        Sidenote, because this isn’t the point I was trying to make, but one of the ways the Germans were able to gain a moral justification to go after the Jews was due to their wealth after WW1.

        1. A few people have brought up the idea that wealth is subjective (especially on my Instagram post about this topic). And I agree that’s true when the topic is lower middle class and middle class and upper middle class. But in this post, we’re discussing billionaires and the extremely wealthy. And that’s not a particularly subjective concept. No one needs a billion dollars. That’s not grey, it’s black and white.

          To be clear (because many people seem to be confused on this point), billionaires and millionaires are not in the same category. Not even close. They’re not in the same universe. A millionaire is much, much closer to being homeless and penniless, than a billionaire is to being a millionaire. A billion dollars is unfathomable wealth. I highly recommend this link from an earlier comment with lots of examples of the difference between a million and a billion.

          Again, saying a billion dollars is excessive wealth is not an out-there idea. It’s very easy to understand. And asking billionaires/the extremely wealthy to stop tax avoidance and pay their fair share should not be an unusual idea.

          The companies the billionaires built used tons of public resources along the way — they hire people who receive public school educations. They use roads, and electricity, and infrastructure that is funded by average citizens. In many cases, they keep wages so low that their employees have to rely on government assistance. The companies receive massive welfare in the form of government subsidies. They did not earn that money in a vacuum. Why shouldn’t they pay their fair share?

          (Pro-tip: right now, they don’t come close to paying their fair share.)

    2. And I wouldn’t say it’s an echo-chamber, it’s feeling more like a consensus. I think the clip I shared from Fox News is a good demonstration that people across the political spectrum are in agreement on this.

      1. I think we will have to agree to disagree on the topic in general. I wanted to voice my dissenting opinion and have been able to. :) Thank you.

        The statistic showed the percentages of the people who agreed to increase the taxes of people making an income of over $10 million (70% pro to 24% con), over $1million (65% pro to 29% con), and over 250K (44% pro to 48% con). It didn’t break down the percentages according to political party. I have seen both sides abuse polls to say something that the poll did not say.

        What is especially disturbing to me in that poll is that 44% of the population they polled wanted to increase taxes on those making over $250,000 a year… that is NOT the wealthy in my neck of the country. That’s the middle class… this is why I really feel uncomfortable with people wanting to “soak the wealthy” (a quote I pulled from a previous reader’s comment.) Wealth really is a matter of perspective.

        Thank you for letting me say my 2 cents.

          1. Thank you “A”. My thoughts exactly. The comments above are at the apex of a very slippery slope and sound ideal until the government decides they are rich also. Be careful what you wish for everyone… just might get it. I for one am grateful for a country that allows its citizens to work, earn money, and heaven forbid, become wealthy. No apologies. God will judge everyone of us for how we use our money. Until then, it’s my money and no one should be allowed to take it or tell me how to use it. We have the sad model in Venezuela to show us how far a government will take.

          2. J, how about Scandinavian countries? How do you feel about how they’re run and “how far the government has taken it”?

            P.S. — If you don’t personally earn over $10 million per year, you’re not the subject of this conversation and need not feel threatened. If you do earn over $10 million per year, God is already judging you if you’re practicing tax avoidance and not paying your fair share.

  24. How much of this wealth disparity is on actual wealth? I’m sure that I’m missing a word for it, but just because is valuated at several billion dollars now doesn’t mean it can be liquidated for that much. After Bezos’ divorce, if his ex sold ALL of her shares in Amazon, the valuation of the company would drop precipitously, at least for a while. Apply this to every stock out there.
    The housing crisis showed that housing values are also subject to ‘correction’.

    1. I understand what you’re saying, and I think it’s an interesting question when we’re talking about millionaires in the 10-20 million range and whether or not they’d be affected by a higher marginal tax rate. But when the number is Jeff Bezos’ $135 BILLION, it doesn’t apply. Even if only half was liquid, it would be unfathomable. At 10%, it’s still unfathomable. At 1%, still unfathomable; no one person needs that much money.

  25. I just want to say thank you for compiling all of those incredible links and stringing them into a story and conversation prompt. I KNOW this is a monumentally busy time for you, and yet…you did this. Awe-inspiring.

  26. Your pitchforks comments reminded me of this article, Gabby! From an actual billionaire who has made it his mission to convince other uber-wealthy business owners to pay their workers well…or else the pitchforks are coming! He did a TED talk, and wrote a follow-up article to it (also on politico) after the election as well. His arguments are amazing—I don’t see how anyone could disagree with him. Unless you are evil and want to live in denial. Haha. He also has a podcast called….(you guessed it) Pitchfork Economics!

    Thanks as always for the insightful posts and commentary, and moderating the only comment section left that is worth reading! I am so thankful for your corner of the Internet.

    1. Oh my goodness! I remember that article! Is it really from 2014?! I’m going to have to look him up and see where he stands on the topic of tax avoidance. : )

      My favorite paragraph:

      “Dear 1%ers, many of our fellow citizens are starting to believe that capitalism itself is the problem. I disagree, and I’m sure you do too. Capitalism, when well managed, is the greatest social technology ever invented to create prosperity in human societies. But capitalism left unchecked tends toward concentration and collapse. It can be managed either to benefit the few in the near term or the many in the long term. The work of democracies is to bend it to the latter. That is why investments in the middle class work. And tax breaks for rich people like us don’t.”

      Thank you for reading, Amanda, and for the kind words about the comment section here.

  27. I’m very late to the conversation. I think it’s really important not to blame fingers at a set of people and say it is their fault. It’s really easy to be angry at the rich people. But we have to create solutions that are both just and effective, which is incredibly complicated.

    Sometimes we often connect things that are really not connected. Like we can look at rich people and think that they are at fault for slow wage growth when there are so many other factors. We want greater equality, but we forget that greater equality reduces efficiency (which is something we also want). We want things like reducing health care costs immediately–without thinking of the effect that will have on the people employed in healthcare (who are obviously not all evil).

    We want to blame the super rich on all our economic problems, when the issues are so much more complicated than that. I don’t think it is unethical to be rich. However, the rich do many things which are unethical. And yet, they do things that are ethical too. I would hate to be in their shoes and have to manage a huge amount of money–it sounds easy, but it seems like it would be incredibly complicated and confusing.

    And we might forget that every time people save and have money, they aren’t hoarding gold coins in a vault. That money saved is actually being used for investment–people can buy homes, get business loans, increase technological advancements, and improve the standard of living for everyone.

    We think that if someone owns lots of huge houses, this money could instead be put to good use and help solve actual problems. But it’s not that simple at all. The money doesn’t immediately go where it is needed. And people being rich does not preclude there being sufficient wealth and resources to solve real and actual problems. We might be able to have both. What’s wrong with having both?

    We have been improving things in some ways–we forget that our standard of living has increased dramatically throughout history. Extreme poverty is literally people starving to death and children dying–these things have improved, even if people are still really poor. It’s still really bad and there are still so many things to fix, but we don’t need to complete discredit the improvements that have been made, because understanding those improvement helps us continue improving things. And systems need to be in place to fix problems, not just throwing money at them.

    Part of the reason we reduced tax rates for the rich is that a fairly wealthy person (Ronald Reagan) saw that with a high tax rate, actors would earn right up to the top tax bracket and then stop working for the year. He argued that this actually reduced tax revenue, since people weren’t motivated to earn more money. I don’t know how effective that was, but the point is, things are so much more complicated. Again, it’s a payoff between equality and efficiency. It’s hard to strike a balance.

    You have to run the data and look at the whole picture and all the consequences instead of relying on anecdotal evidence. The solutions we come up with on the top of our head usually wouldn’t be actually effective in the complicated world. Complicated problems often need complicated solutions based on data and studies. We need to work together and not just act out of anger and thing that things that make sense to us will work. Things that make sense aren’t always true.

    1. So what are your ideas, Heather? Or what ideas to solve income inequality have you seen from others that you think would work?

      I find myself irritated at your comment because it feels like you think the people commenting here are dummies, and that they need a lecture, and to be told that they’re not smart enough to understand this topic or come up with ideas on this topic.

      Obviously, that’s baloney. No one commenting here is implying that wealth inequality is a simple problem with a simple solution. There is a ton of nuance and understanding in the comments.

      Things we know for sure:
      -Reagan was dead wrong about trickle down economics.
      -Extreme poverty — including people starving to death and children dying is a still a fact of life for millions of the world’s inhabitants
      -Anger is not something to fear and is a powerful tool — especially for women.
      -No one needs a billion dollars.

      1. Oh bother. This is why I don’t usually like engage in conversations like this. I did not mean to be an irritation. I in no way meant to suggest people are dummies or lecture in any way. It came out wrong and I regret commenting. I should have thought things out and studied them out more. Many things I said were not helpful or true. I am usually wrong about lots of things.

        I don’t have any novel solutions or great ideas because I just don’t know and understand enough about the issue. I am more interested in understanding problems than coming up with solutions, and I like questions more than answers. And I am not inclined to be angry about many social and political issues. I suppose those things can be counted as faults. But I respect and I am grateful for those people who work hard to make the world a better place.

  28. Gabby thank you for inciting this interesting conversation. I happen to work in sales of luxury goods. The majority of my clients are multi-millionaires, or billionaires. I am grateful for their business and the living it affords me. I’m especially proud that the products I sell are all made in America by highly skilled artisans. However, it absolutely turns my stomach when ultra-wealthy clients demand discounts or special treatment because they are “spending so much”. This attitude of entitlement is pervasive and disgusting, and I’m shocked that these individuals don’t seem to be embarrassed by their own behavior. It is not uncommon that people try to present “resale certificates” or other devious tricks in attempts to evade paying of CA sales tax. I really want to scream “If you are rich enough to be purchasing a $15,000 coffee table then you are absolutely able to pay the sales tax.

    Another thing I’ve noticed over the last 20 years of selling to ultra wealthy individuals is that they don’t seem very happy. In fact, they are often quite unhappy people. They are stressed out, paranoid of being taken advantage of, and often seem quite burdened by all of their belongings/homes/cars/properties/employees.

    1. Your comment reminds me of a line in Crazy Rich Asians. (Did you see the movie? I loved it.)

      There’s a scene where a very rich bride and her friends are staying at a resort, and the bride treats the guests to a free shopping spree at the luxury resort shops. The guests go crazy and raid the shops — some arguing over the free items. One guest says to the main character; “Nobody loves free stuff more than rich people.”

  29. 60% of wealth being inherited was what stuck out to me as unamerican.
    This destroys equal opportunity and heavily compromises feeling that one deserves what their hard work has gained.
    Passing wealth through generations counter incentives innovation.
    I can support a person making several billions in their lifetime if it all must be spent in their lifetime. Any remainder be redistributed to society focusing on giving next generation equal opportunity. Ie education

    1. Oh. I find that idea — of having to spend everything you earn in your own lifetime, and the rest to be distributed — very interesting. That seems like an idea that capitalism fans would get behind, with each generation having to earn their own way.

      1. I think this statistic might be a little misleading. True, but misleading. It gives the impression that the majority of very wealthy people in the US did not earn it, when in fact, the majority of millionaires in the US are self made.

  30. You know what I notice in this thread: the entire problem with America right now! Stay with me–Gabrielle has done statistics on her blog readership and has said that her readers are primarily well-educated, middle-class Americans. And yet, instead of rousing THAT successful group (which is far larger than the group of billionaires targeted in this discussion) and asking us to change OUR habits and give more to good causes, everyone is throwing the blame and pinning the solution on a group we believe has more than we will ever have… and, therefor, they could not possibly need it/deserve it/etc.

    I don’t think that should be the argument. I believe what we are missing in America is a true desire to personally take responsibility and individually make whatever difference we can! Just because I am not a billionaire does not mean I would find it ethical if a group who has less than I do decided to find a way to make laws to take away what I have–deserved or not. As Americans, we should be finding ways to help each other be more aware of the issues that, in our comfortable level of wealth, we could help alleviate. And, we should be innovative enough to find REAL solutions that involve individuals who are ABLE and WILLING to get involved… no one should be forced into it. We would make a far bigger difference. The trouble is, it requires convincing the masses that we are capable of taking responsibility. It requires personal change.

    1. A few thoughts:
      – I’m not okay with the accusation that Design Mom Readers aren’t “able and willing to get involved.” Or that middle class American citizens are the ones responsible for income inequality. Or that middle class Americans don’t “give enough to good causes.” It’s simply not true. And it’s a pretty horrible accusation to make.

      – A lot of people commenting, including you, seem to be equating a million dollars and a billion dollars. There’s a huge difference. I mean, they’re not even close.

      – Let’s see what happens when people take your advice in an attempt to solve an expensive problem. How about the recent example of Magas raising money for the wall? The president wants 5.7 billion dollars for his racist wall. Congress — both Democrats and many Republicans — don’t want to fund a racist, ineffective wall. So a fundraising campaign was launched by his fans for the wall. In a week, over 300,000 people donated — I’m sure many at great sacrifice — and they raised over 16 million dollars.

      Amazing, right? That’s the sort of thing you’re suggesting? We just band together and we can solve problems! Well, it turns out 16 million dollars is enough for maybe one mile of the wall. Those same people, would have to raise that much money, EVERY SINGLE WEEK FOR ALMOST SEVEN YEARS, to reach 5.7 billion dollars.

      So yes, it’s true when you say that there are way more well-educated, middle-class Americans than there are billionaires. But the billionaires hold virtually all the wealth. (Again, you don’t seem to understand the vast difference between a million and a billion.)

      (To be very clear: Even though I’m using the wall fundraiser as an example here, I don’t support the wall in any way.)

      – The extremely wealthy do a lot of tax avoidance. If you are a middle class citizen, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you pay a higher percentage of your income as taxes than the extremely wealthy pay. If there were laws that required the extremely wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes, why is that objectionable?

      Let’s examine that a little further. Let’s pretend you’re in the middle class. You earn $150k per year, and you have to pay $50,000 in taxes. That is a big tax load and you’re really, really going to feel that tax payment.

      Now let’s pretend you’re a billionaire. You earn 1.5 billion dollars per year, and you have to pay 500 million dollars in taxes. 500 million dollars is so much money! So much more than the middle class person paid. And yet, paying 500 million dollars will not affect your life at all. You will not miss it. Your lifestyle will not change even a tiny bit. And remember, it’s the same percentage as the middle class person paid.

      So again I ask, why do you feel defensive when we discuss the idea that billionaires should pay their fair share of taxes?

      – Lastly, you mention that we can’t know what people need or deserve. I disagree. No one needs a billion dollars, and that’s not actually a controversial thing to say.

  31. Great post! I personally like E. Warren’s idea to tax wealth, not just income, for the higher tax brackets.

    One thing I will point out, is the lack of or smaller tax refunds is at least partially due to changes in how withholding is calculated in 2018.

    Granted, I’m thrilled the withholding changes are back firing. I think the 2018 tax law changes were short-sighted (deficit spending to fund tax cuts? Just kicks the can down the road) and immoral (huge giveaways for corporations and the very rich, and increasing taxes for students, anyone with student loans, or who has a mortgage).

    Budgets are moral documents. Anyone who says differently, is profiting from the current system.

  32. I’m so late to this, but have to agree one million percent with this:

    “Again, saying a billion dollars is excessive wealth is not an out-there idea. It’s very easy to understand. And asking billionaires/the extremely wealthy to stop tax avoidance and pay their fair share should not be an unusual idea.

    The companies the billionaires built used tons of public resources along the way — they hire people who receive public school educations. They use roads, and electricity, and infrastructure that is funded by average citizens. In many cases, they keep wages so low that their employees have to rely on government assistance. The companies receive massive welfare in the form of government subsidies. They did not earn that money in a vacuum. Why shouldn’t they pay their fair share?”

    Everyone should pay their fair share. That’s middle class folks all the way up to the super rich. What’s so hard to understand about that? This country arguably helped the super rich become super rich, why can’t they give back? And if they want to fund philanthropic endeavors, fine. Just pay your damn taxes first!

  33. Great post and as usual the comments are thoughtful and respectful. I love this blog, and the women adding their two cents.
    It is definitely time to be in pitchfork mode- get out there and demand the super-rich be taxed. Maybe you could have better social services for All of the people if there was money available. Maybe people wouldn’t have to be bankrupt by hospital bills, maybe women and men could have maternity/paternity leave all across the country, maybe the social safety net could be improved.
    Many other countries in the world have all of these things already- it’s time to be looking outside of USA’s borders and taking all of the ideas working best elsewhere, and importing them. This is a uniquely American problem in the developed world, get your pitchforks girls, it’s time.

  34. I know I am late to comment but I find this discussion very interesting. As much as I also find it unjust and absurd that billionaires are hoarding such a large percentage of money while children near by go to bed hungry, I also feel uncomfortable with the idea of taking money away from people that they earned legally. I also fear it would be a slippery slope and there are lots of examples of this sort of government intervention that doesn’t end well. Also, I don’t really like the government determining how money is redistributed nor in charge of the process of redistribution given the history of inefficiencies and corruption. I am also tired of the whole idea of the two party system when I don’t find myself aligning with either of them! I do think there are alternatives that are worth discussion. For example, check out the concept of Distributism. It maintains individual liberty but brings back the concept of more localized control and would severely limit the kind of monopolies that create millionaires in the first place. Given all the anger and polarization occuring in society I think we need to find solutions that might serve everyone better in the long run!

  35. gabby-
    such a fantastic post. i am still working through the comments & want to jump in about a book that could be relevant here called Innumeracy :: Mathematical Illiteracy & Its Consequences. it doesn’t reveal how politicians or experts manipulate numbers or data to make public policy but it does show how being an “innumerate” makes you less able to grasp purposeful misinterpretations.

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