What Patriotism Means on Tax Day

Here we are again: Tax Day. Every year, millions of Americans gather their W-2s and 1099s, compile their receipts, their mortgage interest 1098s, and a dizzying array of other tax forms. Then, the vast majority fire up tax filing software from the likes of Intuit or H&R Block. Taxpayers in a few states may take advantage of the IRS’s new Direct File pilot program. Others will use an accountant to help them navigate our byzantine tax laws. They’ll input their income, praying they won’t owe much to the IRS, and they’ll hit the “submit” button.

They have fulfilled their civic and patriotic duty.

But the ultra-rich will have a different experience. They will deploy an army of tax lawyers to take advantage of every deduction and loophole that Congress offers. They will shrink their tax burden to an astonishingly small percentage of their personal value and annual income. Billionaires will pay lower tax rates than the secretaries who manage their affairs. Many of them will pay absolutely nothing in taxes.

While teachers, firefighters, nurses, plumbers, trash collectors, civil servants, clergy, and electricians contribute their fair share, the ultra-rich take advantage of our tax code to hoard their wealth. They will dodge their responsibilities to their country and pass the economic burden on to their fellow citizens. Between 2014 and 2018, the richest 25 billionaires paid an average effective federal income tax rate of just 3.4% on over $400 billion in gains. (Some billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have actually managed to get away with paying $0 – that’s right, nothing – in federal income taxes in recent years.) Meanwhile, the average American pays an average 13.3% income tax rate.

Paying taxes is the most basic act of patriotism there is. The vast majority of Americans pay their taxes with every paycheck. The ultra-wealthy often do not. How can a democracy survive in a system so patently unfair?

Our tax code is not broken: our tax code is rigged. It was deliberately created to be complicated to navigate and difficult to untangle and was intentionally riddled with deductions and loopholes so large that a limousine could drive through them.

Some millionaires gleefully take advantage of our tax code and justify their use of loopholes by regurgitating half-baked talking points about “job creation” or “trickle-down economics.” Their defense of avoiding taxes has always been unconvincing; and frankly, their defensiveness on the issue does cause one to raise their eyebrow. The billionaires doth protest too much.

Simply put, for the ultra-rich to avoid paying taxes is the equivalent of saying that being rich is more important than doing right by our country. And rigging the system to dodge taxes – as the billionaire class has done – is not only unpatriotic, but ultimately corrosive to American democracy, antithetical to a shared future, and morally indefensible.

We call ourselves Patriotic Millionaires because we believe in our bones that we cannot be patriots without paying our fair share of taxes.

But our patriotism – our belief in America – requires us to do more. It requires us to dedicate ourselves to unrigging the tax code and building a vibrant economy that enables our neighbors and our fellow countrymen to thrive.

The Patriotic Millionaires are fighting to do just that, and we are making progress. This Tax Day, the economy remains rigged. But what we can do for our country today – proudly and patriotically – is pay our taxes.

Happy Tax Day, America.

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