Why I’m A Patriotic Millionaire: Karen Edwards

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As someone new to being wealthy, I’ve discovered it’s cheap to be rich in this country. Only in America can you make a fortune in Silicon Valley, yet safely send your children to public school, drive your own car, and travel without a bodyguard. The wealthiest Americans can claim depreciation on their private jets, own 2+ homes to claim residence in a no-income-tax state, and hire financial wizards to profit from every tax loophole in the book. Even though it sounds wrong, this isn’t illegal. In fact, many folks will argue that they’re just playing by the rules, but the problem is the rules disadvantage workers like my family members throughout the USA.

I joined the Patriotic Millionaires because I am patriotic. I fly our flag, and America The Beautiful by Ray Charles is one of my most-played songs on iTunes. This may not seem woke in 2020, but I am proud to be American, even as our country reckons with the systemic racism that has fueled inequality. As a biracial person, I want to contribute to the success of America, because my ancestors were slaves who built this country and later fought for the civil rights of all Americans. Now it’s time— again—to fight for economic rights for all.

Let’s make something clear: I am an unapologetic capitalist. I started my career in journalism but I moved on to advertising and ultimately made my fortune in business. I believe that businesses can add significant value to the world, through products and services that improve lives, to innovations that improve society.  

But, importantly, good business requires oversight and regulation. I am increasingly concerned with how unbalanced our society has become thanks to decades of companies focusing solely on their bottom line at the expense of their employees and communities.

I wasn’t always wealthy. Growing up in a multi-racial neighborhood, my mother was a teacher and my father was a medical technologist at the local hospital. We were comfortable, and so were my relatives working in Mississippi or Iowa. Now, many in my family work two jobs, sometimes even commuting out of state for work. The idea that anyone could be considered “working poor” sickens me. Two adults working full time should not be so poor that they cannot afford adequate healthcare and housing.

When I look back at the many opportunities I had during my life, it is shocking how few are still obtainable today. When I was in high school, I was able to work a minimum wage job, gain skills during college, and keep myself afloat.  When I graduated, student loan payments were my biggest expense, but I was able to land an entry-level business job, go to business school (more loans), and pick up well-paying jobs that provided additional training. This allowed me to pay off my loans and take the risk of joining a 10-person startup no one had heard of. My job fulfilled my career dreams, plus I won a fortune beyond my imagination. Today, so many young people are burdened with far greater debt and few decent-paying career entry points, it makes my own experience as a young person sound like a fantasy. I worry many bright young people won’t be able to afford to take the risks necessary to fulfill their potential and contribute their best to our economy.  But it’s not just young adults I worry about.

Living in Silicon Valley, I see examples of stark inequality everywhere, every day. Even mature professionals are joining the ranks of people grappling with unemployment, unaffordable housing, and unimaginably long commutes.

Companies here could provide liveable wages if they chose to —but they don’t. If they did, it would put a dent in their sky-high valuations, with some now topping over a trillion dollars. A trillion dollars. Only the four biggest states in the US and only 16 countries in the world have economies over a trillion dollars. Imagine if even a fraction of that abundance was invested in our workers and communities. 

While many wealthy individuals and businesses avoid taxes, they all rely on our publicly-funded services like transportation networks, legal system, public safety, and education. We taxpayers are subsidizing corporations by taking on the true cost of their business inputs, and thanks to their free-riding, our institutions are no longer world-class. When wealthy individuals and corporations fail to pay into our system, not only are they essentially stealing from the public; they’re neglecting the building-blocks that allow them to profit. 

What’s more, these same corporations lobby our lawmakers for tax breaks, while shaking-down local communities, promising jobs in exchange for tax incentives and infrastructure investments. If the jobs do arrive, and they often don’t, they never pay enough to cover the true costs of the employees. This is one of the many reasons why we need a nationwide $15 minimum wage for all employees. 

We, Patriotic Millionaires, understand that in order to live in a safe, sustainable society we need to close the gap between the wealthiest and the poor. We believe one of the best ways to do this is to demystify and strengthen our tax laws; to remove loopholes and enact progressive taxation like higher marginal rates, estate taxes, and a wealth tax simple enough to be enforceable.  

I want to live in a country where everyone has access to The American Dream regardless of their zip code. I want an economy based on more than just a speculative stock market, I want an economy based on worth, reflecting the true costs and value of employees and the public good. These are principles that I grew up with and believe America should uphold.

It’s time to unrig the economy in favor of the wealthy few and create a system that works for Americans everywhere.

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