The newest darling of the Progressive Left, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), has set D.C. tongues to wagging with her idea about hiking marginal tax rates to 70 percent on extreme wealth.
And she’s right.
First, it’s generous; compared to the top marginal tax rates pre-Reaganomics.
That’s right, before the Kemp-Roth tax cuts of 1982, the top marginal rates were 71 to 90 percent. It worked well.
We collectively financed the greatest middle-class rise ever known to human existence. Everything from the G.I. Bill for our soldiers returning from the wars (creating an educated class to power the nation’s post-war growth); to the New Deal (Social Security, etc, guaranteeing the elderly never again live in extreme poverty); to the Great Society programs (Welfare, that all Americans fare relatively well regardless of misfortune); to Pell Grants (for secondary education); and on and on.
Every bit of it, including the creation of the Income Tax to make it all possible, originated with Democratic Administrations: Woodrow Wilson, then Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson. The only exception being the G.I. Bill, which was ushered in by Dwight Eisenhower. However, he was more liberal-minded than conservative and practically flipped a coin to decide which party to run with for president.
It’s like this, the American Founders did not intend on creating a neo-Aristocracy where a handful of families, or a few thousand for that matter, dominated all wealth and lived like kings and queens. They envisioned a yeoman’s society where the working man tilled the earth embracing home and hearth regardless of future innovation and technology run amok.
Obviously, times change, but national aims and character can remain the same with a little focus. You can bet your last buck that Vanderbilt- like estates had them doing somersaults in their graves. (George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had fine homes on landed estates but they do not compare; theirs represented hard work and riches, not the greed of extraordinary wealth that can only be gained by deceitful endeavors and tricky games of monetary manipulation, i.e., mass oppression. SEE: Monarchy.) That, my fellow Americans, is precisely what we fought the American Revolution to escape. We could’ve stayed oppressed under the Crown rule of England’s George III for that.
President Woodrow Wilson’s income tax of 1914/1917 put an end to the American neo-Aristocracy/ Oligarchy that gave us the Gilded Age. The backlash was monstrous and put Herbert Hoover in office; some believe his retro attempts to turn back the clock and give it all back to the whiny champagne class gave us the Great Depression.
Besides, have folks not grown filthy rich anyway? Of course, they have! And good for them.
However, the original top marginal rates of 71 to 90 percent tamped down on “the few concentrating too much wealth.” When they made the ground spew black gold, or a mine bleed coal, to the tune of billions, a fair portion was taxed back into the system to benefit the whole. Nobody needs billions of dollars. How many people must be kept hungry, homeless and uneducated for one man to squirrel away 50,000,000,000.00 dollars?
No one is against hard work and making lots and lots of money. Don’t be bothering me while I work my butt off to have a little something. But that is not what’s happening.
And inherited wealth just doesn’t cut it either, we should guard against the unencumbered kudzu-like growth of a laissez-faire class made obnoxious by mommy and daddy’s money. Cough it up, Trumps and Hiltons. You too, Gates and Buffets.
America is about the whole; the whole nation. And it’s not socialism. It’s a combination of Judeo- Christian, secular humanist, American Founding common decency.
Unto your fellow man…and woman.
Dollars are a precious resource. They don’t grow on trees and the Federal Reserve doesn’t print an endless supply. Like water, everybody needs access to a minimum life-sustaining amount.
Reaganomics did great harm. We have never run deficits like we do today. Entire magazines are devoted to hoarding money (excuse me, the Fortune 400?). And we’ve been slow to repair the damage. Democratic and Republican Administrations alike have doodled while China loans and laughs.
Let the rise of unseemly, anti-social, vulgar Trumpism light the necessary fire under better citizens. Citizens with fine ideas like New York’s delightfully controversial Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Some Richie Rich liberal Progressive Democrats won’t like it either.
And really, it’s just a starting point. A starting point well made.
Bernie Evans is a local writer whose opinions have appeared in local publications, TIME and The Nation.