First off I just have to mention that the group’s name isn’t my favorite. It feels a little self serving and self congratulatory, almost like the title of a bad reality TV show. However, it’s the goals of the group that matter and that’s why I became a member.
I came into money the easy way, I inherited it. My grandfather founded a chain of grocery stores right after WWII and my family eventually sold the business, which came to number about 120 stores by the late 1990s. I started working at the family business full-time as a grocery bagger when I turned 12. When we sold the business seven years later I had held various positions inside the store. Along with ownership and management, everyone I worked with worked long hard hours but few of them were ever able to become wealthy. This taught me to reject the notion we so often hear today that the wealthy are the hard workers and everyone else is looking for a handout. In fact, when I was working at the store as a checker we were trained to not hold food stamps and other forms of welfare payment up for others to see, essentially because the people who were on welfare weren’t proud of it. Often they would come in early in the morning or late at night to shop so that their form of payment flew under the radar.
It was easy for me to see that the wealth derived from ownership of a corporation comes from the hard work of employees and the sales of customers spending their dollars. I’ve never understood how or why a corporation would (or could) make important decisions with only input from management, shareholders and board members, while leaving out input from organized labor. Employees are on the front lines every day, and they have an invaluable point of view.
This correlates to one of the Patriotic Millionaires core principles: access in politics. Everybody should have equal access to their politicians, but unfortunately due to all the money flowing in from high dollar contributors it is much easier for someone like myself to get a meeting and be heard than it is for someone who doesn’t have the money to donate. The current reality is such that campaigns are expensive and the money is needed. But it will be a better day when campaigns are publicly financed, and when stiff caps are placed on how much an individual can give, to say nothing of spending by corporations and special interest lobby groups — that is where the real corruption is.
I will always be grateful to my parents for sending me to public schools. I’m sure they realized there was some better book smarts to be had at private schools (I personally believe that private schools are another form of segregation) and they wouldn’t have to worry about the gang activity I saw. But in many ways it was a better education to grow up with and be exposed everyday to everyone in the community. You learn firsthand that people are different on the surface, but pretty much all the same regardless of where they come from, what they look like or how big their house is.
This leads me to another principle that the Patriotic Millionaires are working for: that everyone who works full time deserves to make a living wage, so they can live in dignity and take care of their family. Any corporation that makes money off of people working for poverty wages is enabling a form of slavery. Unfortunately, for too many business owners, that is business as usual, and hence the need for a federal minimum wage that affords an above-poverty standard of living.
Over the last couple decades I’ve been working in Venture Capital and Seed Investing. I invest in promising young startup companies. Nobody that I have worked with has ever told me they’d stop doing what they’re doing if their tax rates were raised. Our tax system is too generous to folks like me and I have to wonder, who is going to pay for the infrastructure of the future? My grandfather could never have built a single store had there not been a network of roads connecting people’s homes to the grocery store and other infrastructure, like sewage, electrical, gas, etc., along with a reliable supply of these utilities.
Most of the dozens of startup projects I have supported over the last 20 years have been in the fields of IT and bio-tech, and all of the companies utilize technology that, at its inception, was funded by some sort of government funded research, including the biologic pharmaceuticals company I invested in last year that has the potential to lower the cost of insulin by 50%. This company wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t had its previous funding and development at the University Of Utah, a public institution of higher education.
Transportation, communication and innovative infrastructure are the backbone of a growing economy, along with a healthy and well-educated work force. These are all great investments that our economy has to make, and it makes perfect sense to raise the top marginal rates on high-income earners in order to help make these investments. Anyone who calls this a burden or a punishment should consider how lucky they are, and instead be proud to do it.
Patriotic Millionaire Ryan Smith is an Executive Producer of the documentary film The Brainwashing of My Dad and the upcoming Saving Capitalism.