Fix Our Wealth Disparity Now: A Populist Manifesto
America has reached a critical turning point in terms of our growing disparity in wealth. Recent reports indicate that the world’s three richest individuals — Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett — have more wealth than do the bottom half of Americans combined. https://www.forbes.com/sites/noahkirsch/2017/11/09/the-3-richest-americans-hold-more-wealth-than-bottom-50-of-country-study-finds/#472c34123cf8 To understand this disparity even more starkly: this same lower half owns less than one percent of America’s collective wealth.
But a first-world country should have citizens who all enjoy a first-world standard of living.
Are there solutions to this disparity? History says that there are.
In the mid-1930s, former Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey Long touted his national “Share the Wealth” program. Under Long’s plan, the first million dollars of an individual’s income (or about $12 million today) would have been tax-free. Using a graduated system of escalating taxation, his proposal would have capped personal fortunes at $50 million ($600 million today). https://www.hueylong.com/programs/share-our-wealth.php Long was interested in going after the largest fortunes exclusively, and he understood even then how the One Percent avoids taxes by using various shelters and loopholes. This plan would have ensured that more and more people would rise from poverty, and also that out-of-sight wealth would never accumulate in the hands of individuals, but would rather enrich the whole society.
There was wisdom to this and we should base policy upon it. America needs a new Share the Wealth plan, with sweeping reforms in all areas. Here are some proposals, based on the research I did for my book Survival of the Richest, for addressing our glaring disparity of wealth:
- Most people don’t know that only the lower-income Americans are taxed for Social Security. We should eliminate the regressive nature of Social Security taxes, which means that only the first $128,400 of income is subject to taxation. Taxing all income, in contrast, would result in the wealthiest Americans paying more, as they should. Additionally, there should be strict means-testing for Social Security. As Ross Perot gently suggested in 1992, his economic class has no need for Social Security. https://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-xpm-1992-06-21-9202150766-story.html
- We should eliminate the double tax on Social Security, which was instituted under alleged tax-cutter Ronald Reagan. This double tax on a tax falls disproportionately on lower-income Americans, as the income limit for withholding taxes is presently $128,400. https://www.fool.com/retirement/2018/05/06/social-security-tax-in-2018-heres-how-much-youll-p.aspx
- We must revisit the forty-hour work week, and cut it back. Too many people are producing too many hours of work and being paid too little. Gov. Huey Long proposed a thirty-hour work week in the early 1930s. A glut of job seekers, combined with technological advances and artificial intelligence, today make it imperative to shorten everyone’s work hours. But just as pay wasn’t cut when the forty-hour work week was instituted in the late 1930s, workers today must still be paid as if they were on a full-time forty-hour schedule. This would solve the problem of worker exhaustion in jobs with low hourly wages.
- We should follow the recommendations of the Grace Commission, a Reagan-era committee convened to review government spending. The Grace Commission found that fully one-third of all government spending is total waste, and could be cut without impacting a single person. It’s hard to imagine that this level of waste hasn’t grown substantially in thirty years. Eliminating this massive waste would result in lower taxes for all and free up the federal budget for desperately needed new and improved social programs. https://famguardian.org/subjects/Taxes/Research/GraceCommissionReports.pdf
- One of these new programs should be a nationwide infrastructure rebuilding effort. Our infrastructure is deteriorating to Third World level, and hasn’t really been addressed since the Eisenhower administration. Untold numbers of new jobs could be created in the process, with young Americans helping to upgrade our woeful roads, bridges, airports, railroads and power grids.
- Just as the big banks and corporations such as General Motors were bailed out by taxpayers, American families who are left destitute by illness, foreclosure or job layoffs also need rescuing. A periodic moratorium on all debt, which was commonly known centuries ago as Years of Jubilee, would lift millions out of financial straits, and permit them to spend more discretionary cash on goods and products, thus stimulating the economy.
- The minimum wage should be raised to at least $15 an hour nationally. Large corporations should have some kind of maximum compensation package that is tied to the compensation of their lowest-paid employees. Paying a CEO no more than twenty times what he or she pays the company’s file clerks seems fair and proportionate, even for hard-driving capitalists.
- Employees now pay into an Unemployment Insurance fund their entire working lives. Many, however, never need to or qualify for receiving any of it back. A program should be established whereby workers, upon retirement, receive back some percentage of what they paid into the fund.
- A worker who dies at fifty-five would have paid into the Social Security fund for nearly forty years; if he or she is unmarried and has no living parents or children, the money taken from that worker in his or her lifetime is never collected by anyone. A program should be established that permits childless spouses or closest next of kin to be paid the Social Security benefits of those childless spouses or close relatives who die prematurely.
- Tax breaks should be established for companies that institute a fairer wage and more benefits for all employees.
- Dismantling the HMO, the profit-driven medical system, first begun during the Nixon administration. But price-gouging in the health care system is rampant today. https://1md.org/article/for-profit-healthcare-1md Pharmaceutical and insurance companies should be thoroughly audited, and huge fines and penalties implemented on their obvious price-gouging policies.
There should be a thorough audit of all tax-free foundations, and a moratorium on all corporate welfare.
These are just a few ideas which demonstrate both the power and attractiveness of a sensible, populist program to bolster the middle class and raise the poor out of poverty. There is no need for a great nation to suffer the income disparity that is crippling our advancement and destroying any sense of community.
We are the wealthiest country the world has ever seen. We need to start sharing that wealth.