Below is a letter sent to Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on July 28, 2022 by Jeffrey R. Huggett, a member of the Patriotic Millionaires.
Like so many others recently, I read your blog announcing substantial personal contributions to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Whereas I am thrilled about the important work you fund through your foundation, I hope to convince you in this short letter to add support for our democracy in the United States to the work you will support. And one of the best ways I can think of to support our democracy is for the wealthiest among us to pay more in taxes, not just to support our government, but to make the system fairer.
In your blog, you acknowledge the deep political polarization in our country, and how that limits our ability to have dialogue and provide leadership to solve pressing issues.
The United States is the eco-system that supports our ability to build businesses, freely pursue our individual dreams, and do a bunch of good in the world. Our eco-system is in crisis. Your friend and major donor, Warren Buffett, has said that the major reason he has such great wealth is that he was lucky enough to be born in the United States. I believe that for myself, and I imagine you do as well.
It is not a stretch to think we owe it to our country in times of crisis to pitch in and do what we can. Whereas we both know there is no silver bullet here, you have already suggested a pathway toward a solution, “when lots of people join in, we will resume progress.”
Because of your life work to this point, you have a rather unique ability to bring attention to issues, and to motivate people to act.
One of the saddest experiences I have about life in our country is the juxtaposition of the life of plenty we who are the wealthiest lead versus the struggle so many in our country feel daily just to make ends meet.
Our tax policy over decades has greatly contributed to this yawning gap, while simultaneously and insidiously over time contributing to a belief system that our economic and democratic systems are rigged against those at the bottom in favor of us at the top, and people like you and I are doing the rigging.
Maybe you and I did not actively lobby for lower taxes on people like us, but we have allowed this to go on during our watch.
And the narrative is horrible – the rich fat cats are sticking it to all the rest of us. And the political polarization goes on and on …
Your dad advocated to maintain the estate tax because the big economic winners like you and me owe something to the country that allowed us to be so successful. As the rules stand now, the rich can set up trusts and foundations, and avoid any tax on our accumulated wealth. Most of my rich friends are doing exactly that. It is so easy. Only dummies and those who just aren’t trying pay estate tax!
I’m like your dad in that I believe I owe the country something, as imperfect as it is. I am specifically planning to make sure there is something left in my estate, and a portion of that will go to our country in taxes. I’m not sure anyone will care what I do, but I do hope my 5 children will at least pay attention, and internalize the lesson that we are all responsible to contribute to our collective whole, especially if we have been blessed with so much.
But what if you took a position like this? The whole world would take notice. And what if people understood you took this position because you believed that we all have to do our part to make our country better for all of us? Maybe the level of vitriol in our national dialogue would go down just a notch.
Of course this is not the only issue our country is facing. It’s not even the only tax rule that unfairly advantages the wealthiest among us.
I do not have the ability to reach the entire world by what I say or do. So I have decided to join other wealthy folks like me advocating against our short term economic interest to tax us more. My hope is that our collective voices will both change some policies, but also change the tenor of our country’s collective dialogue. Maybe if people see a bunch of rich folks working for our collective good, they will not believe all the vitriol spewing forth from our sensationalist media outlets.
I really am glad that you are using your significant energies to make our world better, and I hope you will consider adding work towards strengthening democracy in our country to your repertoire.
Jeffrey R. Huggett