Senator Lindsey Graham once said, “It’s really American to avoid paying taxes…It’s a game we play.”
There are many good reasons why Americans should be paying those taxes, and why there should be even higher taxes on the richest individuals and corporations. Of course, these arguments have generally been ignored. But there are several good personal reasons for wealthy Americans to reconsider the tax issue, to start focusing on the importance of a more equal society, and to trust the democratic system to make that happen.
1. They should be scared to death about potential threats to their personal safety
A new industry has developed in doomsday shelters for rich people awaiting Armageddon. But bunkers and security forces won’t be much defense against viruses and microdrones. Or against all-out war or revolution.
In his book, “The Great Leveler,” Walter Scheidel argues that throughout history the fortunes of the rich have been destroyed or diminished in four ways: war, revolution, state collapse, and plague. Increasing unrest and improved killing technologies are making all of these more likely. People of means should be doing everything possible to ease the ongoing tensions by reducing inequality. But that means thinking long-term.
The super-rich better be sure to install anti-viral air and water filters in their bunkers, because the risk is growing for a global pandemic, perhaps initiated by some of the bored and underemployed and angry young men for whom terrorism is “an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer.” As public health expert Dr. Ali S. Khan notes, “A deadly microbe like smallpox – to which we no longer have immunity – can be easily recreated in a rogue laboratory..”
Another real fear for the billionaires is a micro-drone armed with an injectable poison and programmed with facial recognition software to hover patiently before targeting a single individual, after which it can self-destruct to eliminate all evidence of its mission. This is no longer science fiction. The specifications for these drones are all available – or soon to be available – to any skilled tech enthusiast. And to anyone with deadly intentions. Experts are divided on the prospect, but lethal weapons specialist Steve Wright says, “The technologies needed to build such autonomous weapons – intelligent targeting algorithms, geo-location, facial recognition – are already with us…It won’t take much to develop the technology..”
2. They should be horrified by visions of the earth to be occupied by their great-grandchildren
National Geographic’s 2012 Greendex Survey reveals a remarkable human response to environmental damage: “[Those] demonstrating the least sustainable behavior as consumers, are least likely to feel guilty about the implications of their choices for the environment.” Much of that ill-behavior comes from the richest among us. As a Deutsche Welle documentary states: “Inequality undermines people’s willingness to protect the environment.
The world’s population was 1.5 billion in 1900. It’s 7.5 billion now. It’s projected to be approaching 10 billion in just thirty years! By the end of this century our air and water may be too befouled to sustain life, rich or poor. Conservatives tell us not to worry about such problems, because technology will allow us to “adapt” to climate change. That’s a self-serving way to gloss over the issues without taking any responsibility for their prevention. And without thinking about the state of the world for their own great-grandchildren.
3. They should be worried about losing everything to China
Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “Whoever becomes the leader in [artificial intelligence] will become the ruler of the world.” Chinese leaders have announced a plan to become the “premier global AI innovation center” by 2030.
China as ruler of the world is certainly not in the plans of the American super-rich, who want nothing more than homeland security for their estates and portfolios. But China appears to be taking the lead in AI-driven military weaponry. As a Wired review states, “From a military perspective, China is using AI to develop a range of unmanned aerial, ground, surface, and underwater vehicles that are becoming increasingly autonomous.”
China is also leading the way in moon exploration, with U.S. Air Force experts suggesting that the dark side of the Moon could potentially store anti-satellite weapons that are invisible to people on earth. The super-rich – and the rest of us – won’t even know what’s coming.
So how will a 70% tax rate help?
First, for leveling, to lessen the inequality-driven threats of war, revolution, state collapse, and plague; second, to support a unified national effort to protect our great-grandchildren from environmental disaster; and third, to support a unified national effort to maintain our global leadership in AI and space technologies.
The Davos billionaires had a nice slogan: “Committed to improving the state of the world.” But they don’t want to be inconvenienced by actually paying for it. As Michael Dell explained, “I feel much more comfortable with our ability as a private foundation to allocate those funds than I do giving them to the government.”
That’s as arrogant as it gets.
First of all, a private foundation is often a donor-advised fund that allows big tax deductions while the money is hoarded and reinvested rather than directed to worthwhile causes.
Secondly, they believe they can do better on their own? Not possible. Our environmental and technological needs demand a unified effort from all of society. Individual efforts like SpaceX rely on decades of research and development from NASA and other governmental and corporate sources. It takes an entire society to address our major issues.
The super-rich always get their way with Congress and the President. If they really want to “improve the state of the world,” they should be using all their lobbyists and lawyers to make sure their tax money is supporting a cooperative national effort to protect the environment for their great-grandchildren and to remain competitive in the technologies of the future.