I haven’t always been politically active. I spent most of my life working and helping raise my children, and I hated paying taxes just like most people. But two events in my life changed my attitude toward politics and taxes, and when I found Patriotic Millionaires I realized I had found a way to act on these new values.
The first event, exercising stock options in my tech company as I retired, provided more wealth than I ever expected. I realized that despite a higher tax rate, paying taxes didn’t affect my lifestyle at all. In fact, I could even afford to pay more. Even if the government raised my taxes, I wouldn’t have to sacrifice to pay it. Compare that to a standard middle class families just struggling to get by. They may technically pay a lower tax rate than me, but their tax bill affects their lives far more than what I pay.
The second event occurred when I started tutoring underprivileged students. I wasn’t born into wealth; I used three separate scholarships to attend college. But when I got to know these students, I realized how incredibly lucky I had been. While my parents couldn’t afford to send me to the elite private schools where I’d been accepted, they did sacrifice to live in an excellent school district and raise me and my siblings expecting to attend college. The students I work with don’t have this advantage. They don’t have the home life or the quality schools they need to be prepared for the complex, technical world they’ll be entering.
I’ve met loads of rich, successful people in Silicon Valley, and it’s clear that many don’t appreciate how much luck was involved in their success. Most of us realize that being in the right place at the right time and knowing the right people can help us get ahead, but I don’t think many can imagine being raised by parents who aren’t educated and can’t provide a family life conducive to success. We can’t pretend that there’s a level playing field in this country where everybody has an equal chance to succeed and be happy. Very few of the successful people in Silicon Valley attended schools where there’s no expectation of success and most students don’t even finish high school. You’re beginning life at a huge disadvantage when your main concern at school every day is staying safe and healthy rather than preparing to enter an increasingly complicated workforce. When I accepted these facts, I realized I have an obligation to use my wealth to help our country. Paying taxes isn’t so bad.
I’m not an advocate for government controlling everything. I’ve spent most of my life in the private sector and know how well it can work. But all of us as a nation, and especially the trickle-down ideologues on the right, need to come to terms with the fact that the free market, while very efficient at creating wealth, simply doesn’t work in some areas. Education and health care are prime examples. Without government help the free market won’t improve the schools in underprivileged areas, and it won’t provide quality, affordable health care to the poor. Taking money from Medicaid to give me a tax cut is unconscionable.
Inequality doesn’t exist because some people are smart and work hard and other people are dumb and lazy. Our society is unequal because our systems and structures are set up to give massive advantages to certain groups of people over others, and because some people are going to be luckier than others. There’s always going to be some inequality, and in fact some level of inequality is healthy. But we are now so unequal that our society and our economy are suffering. We need to take action.
I like the Einstein quote: “The solution to all problems should be made as simple as possible… but no simpler.” I believe that government should be as small as possible… but no smaller. If there are problems that the private sector can’t or won’t fix, like education and healthcare, then the government must take action. These programs should be paid for by the people who can afford to pay without sacrifice. People like me.