I recently saw a graph depicting the change in the income tax rates for the various tax brackets over the last century. Since the United States Federal Income Tax was instituted in 1913, the trend has been that the tax rates for most of the brackets have been fairly stable. This is not the case, however, for the highest tax bracket. The income tax rate for our country’s highest earners has gone up and down throughout the decades. The overall trend, however, over the last 60 years has been a dramatic lowering of their taxes to rates that are getting closer to those of the middle classes.
The pure data behind America’s income tax rates show that, through our history, the wealthy have been transferring the burden of taxes to those beneath them. Frankly, this is quite perplexing to me. Individuals who have the most wealth are the ones most able to pay higher taxes. People with less wealth cannot pay at higher rates because they usually have a much lower portion of disposable income that can be taxed. So why do we do this?
I’ll tell you why. The structure of our democracy ensures that money is the most powerful tool to create political change. The politicians that acquire enough money can ensure their reelection, and those with the most money are the most likely to be courted for their financial support. In turn, the political system caters to the whims of those that ensure their continuance of political power, evidenced by the historic trend of giving tax cuts to the wealthiest.
Also consider the latest data indicating that major U.S. corporations, like ExxonMobil and Bank of America, have gone multiple years without paying a single dime in income taxes. How is it that some of the most profitable and powerful corporations on Earth aren’t paying their share of taxes? Well, the tax code was written with enough loopholes and complexities by the wealthy interests so that they could get by with paying the least amount of money possible to Uncle Sam. It should be no wonder why the deficit is so high: the people who have the most to contribute to the government’s economic solvency are the ones who do the most to avoid paying their fair share.
This is not right. It does not matter what political ideology you follow or what politicians you vote for. This is a civil society that is governed by the rule of law. When the most powerful and wealthy among us feel that they are entitled to skirt the law that the rest of us have to follow, then there is something seriously wrong with what’s going on.
This country is supposed to be a democracy. How can we possibly be content with allowing the decisions of a handful of people rule the economic fate of all? How can we be happy being told by the wealthy that the vast majority of us have to sacrifice things like education, social security and quality healthcare so that they may retain lower taxes? How can we allow their narrow interests to dominate the interests of the majority?
There is something gravely wrong in this country. Rule by the wealthy is a phenomenon that has existed since time immemorial. The difference, is that we willingly allow this to happen even though we have the power to change that. Despite all the unemployed workers, the growing poverty rates, the deepening divide in the concentration of wealth, deference to the authority of markets rather than the authority of morals, the melting ice-caps and rising seas, the socio-political monopolization of power, we still are too blind to see. We have all been raised to believe that unrestricted capitalism and economic liberty are virtues to be embraced rather than vices to be tempered. The incessant preaching of these doctrines by politicians and pundits alike has led to our willful ideological submission to rule by the few. Despite all the mounting evidence characterizing the sheer unequal, oligarchic and indefensibly unfair system, we still cling to it like a misguided sailor going down with the ship while the captain sails away in a lifeboat, chuckling to himself.
The time has come to take a stand. There are far more of us than there are of them. We have the power of the vote. We have the power of the consumer. We have the power of the pen. Most importantly, we, unlike our ancestors, have the knowledge laid bare of what is happening to this planet, to this species. We will not allow the few to rule the many. We will no longer allow the supposedly “greatest” country on Earth to be filled with those who are too complacent or fearful to stand up for what is right. We will not allow our descendents to be born into a world stratified because of our neglect. This is no longer about partisan politics. This is about what it means to be a human being, if we truly believe that the miraculous spark of light within the human mind has a greater purpose than to just savagely compete for resources.