Why I Am A Patriotic Millionaire: John Michael Hemmer

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As an American, I believe ours should be a land of golden opportunity—golden opportunity that should be equally available and accessible to all

Starting 70 years ago, I experienced American opportunity manifesting into reality in my own life.  As descendants of a poor family that raced for land in the Oklahoma Land Rush, my family survived on $90/month and lived in a tiny apartment.  In those days, however, Americans proudly funded public education, and gifted teachers lifted me step-by-step toward knowledge and skills. A mentor guided me to an excellent university, and useful summer jobs (no internships then!) paid for it.  Equipped with a law degree, I eventually satisfied anyone’s definition of success. Today I am wealthy and blessed, a true rags-to-riches story.

Of course, America has never truly been a land of opportunity for all.  One need only look at a Virginia slave in the 1840s, or a Lakota child on the Pine Ridge reservation or Baltimore students in schools without the bare basics even today.  But for much of the last century, we at least sought to become better, and to make the type of opportunity I enjoyed truly available to all.

Sadly, today, I worry that we are abandoning that mission. 

America is systematically reducing equality of opportunity and expanding inequality.  Many parts of our country no longer fully support public education, a critical pillar of success.  Millions of skilled jobs go unfilled every year, and we often export many of them to our national detriment.  Our tax code lurched toward inequality in the early 2000s and took an even bigger jump with the 2017 tax cuts. The Citizens United decision gave dark money disproportionate political power, and America’s most fortunate used that power not to enhance equality but to drive the country deeper into debt and line our own pockets.

As a wealthy person, the nation’s tax code is now undeniably structured to help me get richer.  I can take advantage of numerous tax-reduction opportunities that aren’t available to most Americans simply because they aren’t wealthy.  The result, of course, is that incomes and assets of the wealthiest Americans are rising rapidly, as we, the well-to-do, hoard more and more of the nation’s wealth.  This is not equality of opportunity, and it is patently unfair.

This makes no sense and is wholly unsustainable.  That’s why I am a Patriotic Millionaire.  

No American can sensibly believe that it’s in the nation’s interest—or the interest of any business—for more and more Americans to be stuck without the opportunity to prosper.  It doesn’t matter if my children get to go to Princeton and get great jobs and do better than me; with more and more Americans facing restricted opportunities compared to the rich, the economy will eventually drag.   The multiplier effect of giving more money to the rich is smaller than from allowing more money to those who really need it and will spend it quickly. In America, however, our fiscal policy is designed so that the rich now often pay lower tax rates than middle-class Americans.

Growing inequality is unsustainable because, sooner or later, the disadvantaged are not going to put up with it.  Whether this manifests in the form of burning cities, violence in the streets , or calls for revolution, it will come in time, as it has throughout history.  I believe the threads of this are already apparent in places like Hong Kong or Chile. What seems unimaginable today could, in a world driven by social media, ignite literally overnight.  

Finally, I am a Patriotic Millionaire because growing inequality is simply wrong.  No spiritual tradition would support what the rich are doing in and to America today.  There must be a limit on how much we manipulate the political system to make ourselves ever richer.  The evidence is overwhelming that the accumulation of wealth we are seeing does not increase happiness.  More money won’t buy it, not for us, nor for our children.  

Let’s restore and expand the American dream.  Let’s contribute to opportunity for all by paying reasonable taxes that are fair for all.  Let’s stop looking out only for ourselves and restructure the American economy to allow everyone to explore their own talents without one arm tied behind their back.  Let’s contribute to our nation and its future, not just take as much as we can.  

As a Patriotic Millionaire, that’s what I seek. 

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