As a child, I recall a woman coming to our door one evening collecting for the poor. I pushed my way in front of my mother who stood in the doorway. Even at seven years old, the thought of someone not having enough to meet their basic needs was crushing to me. I ran to my room, got my piggy bank, and would have handed over my entire savings of $3.00 had my mother not stopped me. I don’t remember what she gave the person, but that memory is still very vivid in my mind. That may have been the day I became a “bleeding-heart liberal.”
We were not well off by any means, but we had more than some. There was a family in our neighborhood who we gave my school dresses to once I’d outgrown them. They were really the only “poor” family I knew, but at least they had a house to live in.
Ours was a pretty typical 1950s suburban neighborhood. My step-father worked for the city public works department, which I suppose made us a blue-collar family. Mom stayed home. That’s how it was on my street.
A Republican was in the White House, the highest tax rate was 90%, and the country had never been more prosperous. Those folks in the 90% bracket were mostly the stuff of movies to the rest of us, but sometimes we’d pile into our 1957 Hudson and cruise the rich neighborhood to gaze at all the mansions. Nobody begrudged them their wealth. These days families like mine exist mostly only in memory.
Today the term “wealth inequality” is one we hear a lot. The highest tax rate is supposed to be 35%, but if you’ve made your millions from investing, you only pay 15%, and if you’re Mitt Romney with an investment income of $57,000 a day that figure inexplicably drops to 13.9. In contrast, my tax bracket is 25%.
But who can really fault him? The law is the law and he’s not breaking it. Of course, having the tax laws written by a Congress bought and paid for by lobbyists protecting the same Wall Street interests from which Mitt and folks like him derive all that dough might just be the teensiest bit fucked up, but according to Romney the rest of us are just envious.
Although, when you think of it, why would anyone need so much money? I recently came across an article that shows all the things one could buy with a billion dollars and still have change left over. It’s a pretty fancy shopping list that includes 40 private islands at $24.5 mil a piece. Okay, one private island you might be able to justify because really, who doesn’t want their own damn island? But seriously, I don’t think I could be very happy there if I knew that because I wasn’t paying my fair share to the country that gave me the opportunities to acquire such vast wealth so many of my fellow citizens were struggling just to survive.
I’m not suggesting we go back to the 90% tax rate of the 1950s because God forbid someone should have to try to get by on a paltry $100 million, but in his State of the Union address the President suggested a 30% figure and that seems reasonable to me.
Ours has always been a class-based society, until recently with extremes on both ends of the money spectrum and a vast middle where the majority of Americans comfortably resided. It was a society where your birth status took a back seat to your dreams, and those “poor kids” who wore my hand-me-down dresses needed only a willingness to work for those dreams to achieve them.
Today most of those mansion-filled neighborhoods, like the one my family drove through when I was a child, have gates around them, and a whole generation has given up on their dreams.
Is it really too much to ask the 1% among us to pay a bit more? It would be the classy thing to do.