Out of the Woods / Spread the wealth -- a must in America
As we well know, the income tax deadline for federal and state earnings in 2010 due this Friday. Westporters are, no doubt, staying up late at nights to fill out their forms or their accountants are doing it for them. Either way, this week is income tax week and nobody is very happy about that -- especially those in Westport and across the nation who are struggling to make ends meet.
With the economy recovering so slowly, you might think that governments (local, state and federal) could have found ways of cutting back on taxes this year. But that did not happen. Even the millionaires and billionaires get to keep their money from the Bush-era tax cuts. Congress failed to step up to the plate and increase rates for the wealthy.
Still, even the rich -- including some Westporters I know -- are still upset over President Barack Obama's campaign pledge to allow them to earn up to $250,000 before they are taxed. These well-to-do people seemingly want it all. I call it greed.
A case in point: Some time ago I wrote a column opposing the Republican's position of maintaining the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. I mentioned Obama's campaign figure of $250,000 and above as the ceiling for big rollers in America. I thought then and I still think that giving a person a pass on the first $250,000 of earnings is a very good deal.
Yet, not long after that column was published, a friend of mine called me to complain about Obama's plan to tax those families earning more than a quarter of a million dollars. Can you imagine? I responded by stating that, in many people's opinion, the wealth needs to be spread more in our country, and giving the rich --including giant corporations -- tax breaks is counterproductive to the all-out effort to creating far more jobs and restore our economy.
My friend's reluctance to pay more taxes on that part of his earnings over and above $250,000 is, in my view, a pretty selfish, self-serving attitude. This country is not going to recover from the Great Recession any time soon if those with the most money are not willing to sacrifice for the good of the country. They live in a "I've got mine world" and to hell with the many millions of Americans who are jobless and who can hardly get by.
That "me first" mindset is not what built America in the first place. This nation was created and based on the assumption that everyone should get his or her fair share. The opening of the United States Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, states as follows:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
How can the poor exercise "the pursuit of happiness" when so many families are losing their homes through mortgage defaults, living on food stamps, eating out of soup kitchens, and overwhelmed by the combination of increased prices of all goods and services while receiving less and less help from the federal government?
Our government is there to look after the poor and needy -- not the rich. This is not a Democratic or Republican principle. It is a moral imperative. The country is only as well off as its poorest people. This is fundamental in a capitalistic society. Those who oppose increasing taxes on the "haves" in order to help the "have nots" call this kind of thinking "socialism." So be it. I am not nor have I ever been a Socialist, but that does not mean that the concept of sharing the riches of our nation is not sound.
President Obama has taken a beating from extreme right wing Republicans, but the socialism rap on him is unfair and amounts to fear-mongering. In the past, the tax rates were not so wildly skewed that the rich paid so little and the middle class was so badly squeezed. Republicans like to blame everything on the "liberal," high-spending president.
In fact, Obama--much to the consternation of the Democratic left-- is no liberal. He is a centrist who tries to be a conciliator and get all sides together in an effort to find "common ground." Last week, he succeeded--temporarily--with the budget. He should continue to be deeply involved in all phases of the nation's economic recovery.
His "common sense" solutions are beginning to win favor among some Republicans. That is a good sign. Perhaps, like Lyndon Johnson, he will be able to persuade his protractors to come to the White House and "reason" with him, as they did on the budget last week.
Yes, this is tax season and a perfect time to talk about the lack of distribution of wealth in our country.
In 2010, 45 million Americans lived in poverty; 2009 saw the largest single increase in our poverty rate since the U.S. Census Bureau began keeping figures in 1959; in 2009, 43.6 million people were poor, up from 39.8 million in 2008 and 37.3 million in 2007. The nation's official poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent, up from 13.2 percent in 2008 -- the second
statistically significant annual increase in the poverty rate since 2004.
In 2011 the poverty rate increased again due to the job-killing impact of the Great Recession. The United States has the third worst poverty rate among developed nations.
How can that be? In Westport, one can find little evidence of this whatsoever. But, folks, we live in an unreal pocket of plenty. We need to take a broader look at our country and do whatever we have to do to restore our economy -- even if it means sharing some of our wealth.