The 1%: Tax Patriots vs. Tax Whiners
By Daniel Rigney
Among the wealthiest one-percenters in the United States, I propose that we distinguish between tax patriots and tax whiners.
A few one-percenters, Warren Buffett among them, openly acknowledge that they should rightly be paying higher taxes than they currently do in this time of budgetary crisis. Meanwhile, other super-rich executives and corporations get away with paying few or no taxes at all, whether legally or otherwise, and still whine about taxation all the way to the bank.
Today’s tax patriots include Bill Gates, Sr., father of Microsoft's founder, who with co-author Chuck Collins authored Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes, a book cogently challenging the inequities of our current estate tax laws.
Other privileged activists in the progressive spirit of Teddy Roosevelt include the organizations Wealth for the Common Good, Patriotic Millionaires, Resource Generation, and Rich American Patriots United for a Tax Increase. These and other advantaged Americans seem to have arrived at the “economics of enough”* and are stepping forward to challenge a long series of tax cuts and Supreme Court decisions in recent years that have concentrated economic and political power increasingly into the hands of a self-serving plutocracy.
Our tax patriots echo the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who famously said that “taxes are the price we pay for civilized society.” No one benefits more grandly and gloriously from a stable civic order than those at the top.
Among the one percent who currenty dominate the United States, the voices of tax patriots are still faint, and are continually subject to contempt and ridicule from the far right. Yet they remain a constant and admirable reminder that not every American of means is a tax whiner, and that, even in this age of seemingly bottomless elite greed, there are still those willing to sacrifice a generous and civic-minded portion of their own good fortune for the sake of the commonwealth.
May they, and we together, live long and prosper.
*Diane Coyle, The Economics of Enough: How to Run the Economy As If the Future Mattered (Princeton, 2011). Tolstoy raised the issue as a question: "How much does a man need?" Jesus also had some long-forgotten thoughts on the matter. As an historical note, greed was once regarded as a sin before neoclassical economists redefined it as a moral virtue. See also "Wall Street" + "Gecko."