Taxing the rich is really, really popular…everywhere

We normally use this space to talk about taxes, wages, and other issues from a purely American perspective, but this week we’re going to look across the pond to the UK, where Prime Minister Liz Truss’s disastrous tax cut proposal ended up being perhaps the biggest financial news in the world over the last week.

Just 11 days ago, Kwasi Kwarteng, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the UK equivalent of the US Secretary of the Treasury), delivered a statement outlining the Conservative Government’s new “mini-budget.” The budget included nearly £43 billion ($49 billion) in tax cuts, including the abolition of the top income tax rate of 45% for earnings over £150,000 ($164,000), a move that would significantly cut taxes for the UK’s richest residents. This revenue loss would be covered by government borrowing, which Kwarteng and Truss assured would be made up for by the economic growth that they claimed the cuts would generate.

The backlash to the mini-budget’s elimination of the top income tax rate was swift and severe (click HERE to read a fantastic opinion piece on the issue from a member of the UK branch of our group, Patriotic Millionaires UK). The public simply could not swallow a tax cut for high earners during a cost-of-living crisis that has left millions of Britons unable to heat their homes or put food on the table. Amid the frenzy, the value of the British pound crashed and markets went into a tailspin. Finally, when members of their own Conservative party began to jump ship, Truss and Kwarteng were left with no other political option but to do a U-turn on the provision altogether.

Yesterday, after barely a month in office, Truss stunningly announced that her government would backtrack on its plan to abolish the top income tax rate.

This is a big win for tax fairness. Eliminating the top income tax rate would have given huge, unnecessary, and undeserved tax cuts to the UK’s highest earners. But while that was the worst piece of the budget that Truss and Kwarteng put out, the rest isn’t much better. That said, the only acceptable move would be a complete U-turn of the Conservative mini-budget. They need to scrap all of their other policy plans that benefit no one but the wealthy – like billions in corporate tax cuts paired, very coincidentally, with £18 billion in cuts to public services – and instead work to RAISE taxes on the rich.

That won’t happen, but the extreme public reaction to Truss and Kwarteng’s plan to eliminate the top income tax rate should give them and other would-be tax cutters pause. Since we formed the Patriotic Millionaires back in 2010, we’ve engaged with thousands of people from all sorts of backgrounds and walks of life about our mission. We’ve had incredible dialogues in settings as formal as the White House, the halls of Congress, state houses, schools, and lecture halls and in settings as informal as coffee shops, bars, and the middle of parking lots. We’ve learned a lot from these encounters, but if there’s one main takeaway, it’s this: taxing the rich is really, really popular (and cutting taxes for the rich is really, really not).

Conservative politicians like Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng like to trot out the supply-side economic playbook whenever the going gets tough. They push and push and push the idea that tax cuts and other benefits for the rich will ultimately “trickle down” to everyone else and grow the economy. But as we’ve seen in the UK over the last week, workers (and international financiers) know better and won’t have it. They know that supply-side tax cuts – no matter the time, place, or circumstance – won’t help to grow anything but the bottom lines of the rich. And they’re bolstered by study after study over the years that have collectively and unequivocally thrown supply-side economics in the metaphorical trashcan of economic theories.

Workers don’t just want to end the tax breaks for the rich, though. They want the rich to start paying MORE in taxes. Last month, Patriotic Millionaires UK commissioned a survey which found that a whopping 70% of the British public – including 64% of Conservatives – supports raising taxes on the rich. Polls conducted in the US and other developed countries have found similar or greater levels of support. The consensus is clear: people want to see the rich pay more than the precious little they do now in countries all over the world.

We can see how popular our tax-the-rich agenda is by how spectacularly the tax cut for top earners in Britain failed. But if you feel like you need some more evidence closer to home, look no further than the Massachusetts Fair Share Amendment, or “Millionaire’s Tax.”

On November 8, voters in Massachusetts will decide whether they want to amend their state’s Constitution to create an additional 4% annual tax on incomes above $1 million. The tax would finally break over 100 years of the Massachusetts constitution mandating a flat state income tax, an extraordinarily regressive regime that leaves a billionaire paying the same state tax rate as a schoolteacher. The cherry on top is that the estimated $2 billion the tax would raise each year would be spent on critical education and infrastructure projects.

In contrast to the UK plan to abolish the top income tax rate, there has been virtually no backlash over the Massachusetts Fair Share Amendment (aside, of course, from complaints from a few angry millionaires). On the contrary, the tax is polling extremely well ahead of the election, and all signs point to it passing. Just like everyone else in the world, Massachusetts residents clearly understand the need to ensure the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes.

And it’s not just a means to an end to raise funds for other social programs. It’s about fairness. It’s not right that rich people can use our shared social infrastructure – our roads, bridges, courts, police forces, schools, etc. – to make their millions and billions without paying for it like everyone else. This is true all the time, but particularly during times of financial crisis like the one we’re experiencing now with record-breaking inflation.

The US and UK have pursued the same kind of neoliberal, deregulatory, supply-side policies since the 1980s and the rise of Thatcherism and Reaganomics. So it’s not a coincidence that both countries have since suffered extreme levels of economic inequality and poor social outcomes. And now, it’s also not a coincidence that working people in both countries have finally had enough and are demanding their lawmakers finally do the right thing, reverse course, and raise taxes on the rich.

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