Making Money Doesn’t Make You A Patriot

Here’s a helpful tip to understanding the current debate over taxing the rich: if you ever find yourself reading an opinion piece, say like the one in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, that begins with the words, “the two of us are quite rich,” take whatever follows with a heaping grain of salt. 

That may sound a bit counterintuitive coming from a group called the Patriotic Millionaires, but there’s a good reason for advising caution. When our organization formed in 2010, we deliberately sought to claw back the definition of what it means to be patriotic from the warped, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” vision that many of our fellow wealthy Americans have been selling to average Americans for too long. 

For decades, they’ve been perpetuating the myth of tax cuts, loopholes, and special incentives for the already-rich as the sole drivers of growth and prosperity in this country. They’ve done this largely in lockstep, despite all evidence indicating that trickle-down economics is pure fiction and that inequality is skyrocketing at a rate that even the most die-hard proponents of unbridled capitalism admit is unsustainable

This is the context that’s missing from Bernie Marcus and John Catsimatadis’s op-ed “Making Money Is A Patriotic Act,” and it’s the context that makes the headline ludicrous enough in itself. The rest of the piece fares no better.

Marcus and Catsimatadis claim that “the evidence is clear” that raising taxes on the rich – read: themselves – would harm American ability to compete in the global economy, yet cite no such evidence. In reality, other developed countries with higher taxes on the rich are doing just fine in global markets and experience far, far less inequality than here in the United States.

The authors then dig into the tired mantra, beloved in wealthy circles, that they know how to spend their money “more wisely, and in ways that benefit our communities and our country, than politicians can.” This is just patently untrue. If leaving the critical systems that millions of Americans depend on in their everyday lives like education and infrastructure up to the whims of a few rich people instead of a democratically-elected body of representatives sounds pretty unpatriotic to you, you’d be right. America is a democracy, not – in theory – an oligarchy. 

Finally, Marcus and Catsimatadis trot out the job-creator myth, one that we’ve dismantled time and time again. While the richest among us, with a vested interest in maintaining our grossly unequal status quo, like to shout from the rooftops about how they use their tax cuts to reinvest in the American economy and create jobs, the evidence shows they overwhelmingly hoard that wealth at the very top and cut jobs left and right. In fact, Home Depot, the company founded by Marcus, spent $15 billion on stock buybacks this year alone – money that goes directly into wealthy shareholders’ pockets in artificially inflated value, and not to its 400,000 employees.

Here’s the bottom line: folks like Marcus and Catsimatadis want to depict their support for unchecked free markets and low tax rates as patriotism because it gives them a moral shield to defend the indefensible. Yes, they have done some good with their wealth. But by actively fighting to preserve the system that allows someone like them to accumulate so much wealth in the first place, they are doing far more harm than good to this country.

This charade may have worked for a while, but with more and more of our fellow high-net worth Americans speaking out against our broken system and supporting policies to tax the rich, the old guard can feel the winds of change coming. So don’t let a silly statement like “making money is patriotic” fool you. It’s the last gasp of an old elite class desperate to cling onto the vestiges of the inequality that propelled them forward and kept everyone else down. It’s a tired idea that belongs in the past.  Real patriotism is recognizing that your country gave you immense opportunity to succeed, and making sure that each and every American can have that same chance.

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