Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Responsible Wealth

In my economic populism (class “warfare” for ordinary people to get a level playing field for a decent life), I sometimes give the impression to  some readers that I believe all wealthy people are evil. Not so.  As Jesus said, it is the love of money that is the root of all evil. Money itself is more complicated. It can be a temptation to idolatry and injustice (and usually is), but it can also be a tool for creating justice and prosperity for many. 

Let me here salute those people in the top 5% of the U.S. incomes who form the group, Responsible Wealth.  This is a project of business people, investors, and affluent Americans who show very different attitudes from the arrogant sense of entitlement shown by the Wall Street bankers forced to testify before Congress yesterday.  Rather, these affluent Americans care deeply about the deepening economic inequality (which began in the late ’70s, long before the current economic mega-crisis) and are working instead to create a society of broadly shared prosperity–and an end to poverty at home and around the world.  Here are folks who are actually ASKING the government to tax them more!  (Warren Buffet, a member of Responsible Wealth, famously said that it’s an outrage that his secretary is taxed at a higher rate than he is–a common pattern in the U.S.–and that over 50% of American corporations so game the system that they pay no corporate taxes AT ALL!) The three main areas that Responsible Wealth works on is a return to a fairer (progressive) system of taxation (in place of the current regressive system), a guaranteed living wage for all Americans, and increased corporate responsibility.

Check out their book by William Gates, Sr. and Chuck Collins, Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes (Beacon Press, 2003). This is a strong argument/plea for the retention and strengthening of the estate tax.  (The GOP tries to muddy the waters by falsely labelling it a “death tax.” Progressives should respond by calling it the anti-aristocracy tax.  The Estate Tax, which only applies to fortunes of a million dollars or more, is pro-democracy.  It prevents a ruling class of idle rich and encourages a meritocracy–where talent and drive are what counts.  Just as the separation of powers creates checks and balances within government, so taxing accumulated wealth is one check and balance on the concentration of power that is inherited wealth.) 

Members of Responsible Wealth include Barry Hermanson, Owner of Hermanson’s Employment Service in San Francisco; Frank Butler, former president and CEO of Eastman Gelatine Corporation (subsidiary of Eastman Kodak); Judy Wicks, owner of the White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia; Martin Rothenberg, founder and former CEO of Syracuse Language Systems.  Bernard and Audre Rappaport; Bill Gates; Warren Buffet and others are part of RW.  So is G. William (Bill)  Foster of Geneva, IL who ran as a Democrat for Dennis Hastert (former Republican Speaker of the House and later Minority Leader)’s old House seat in IL—specifically so he could repeal the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy and get the wealthy to pay their fair share. (It’s significant that the Bush tax cuts are estimated to have cost $1.3 trillion in lost revenue–adding greatly to the national debt–and the Republicans had no problem voting for them. But now they found billions in infrastructure spending to create jobs and get us out of recession to be too much!)

So, here’s my hat off to these un-greedy rich folks.  I hope they are able to bring pressure to bear on Congress so that we create a fair economy–so that what recovers is America, not just Wall Street.


February 12, 2009 - Posted by | economic justice

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