During the 1992 presidential election, then-candidate Bill Clinton's mantra was "It's the economy, stupid." It worked. Clinton was elected and served two terms.
Now a group of wealthy individuals worldwide are hoping a tweaking of Clinton strategist James Carville's iconic phrase will help them convince governments to increase taxes on the rich and simultaneously raise the minimum wage.
"It's the inequality, stupid," say those who are part of the nonprofit Patriotic Millionaires.
The group points to the astounding escalation of economic inequality in the 30 years since President Clinton first stepped into the Oval Office.
There are 735 billionaires in the United States. Three of them — Elon Musk (Tesla, Twitter, and SpaceX), Larry Ellison (Oracle), and Jeff Bezos (Amazon, Blue Origin, and The Washington Post) — hold wealth more than 1 million times the median American household wealth.
At the other end of the earnings scale, nearly 60 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. One-third of workers make less than $15 an hour, and roughly 38 million Americans live below the poverty line, according to Patriotic Millionaires.
Limited success lobbying Congress: These rich individuals organized in 2010 with the goal of ending President George W. Bush's tax cuts for millionaires. Its members range from Wall Street executives (former and current), investors, business owners, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, attorneys, and philanthropists.
I've written about the group over the years, from 'Tax us more,' say some rich Americans to Millionaires say they want to pay more taxes to fight the coronavirus.
But over the decades, the tax-hiking upper echelon earners have had limited success in convincing Congress and other policy leaders to tax the rich more. And the fact is that regardless of what tax code changes are made, when the wealthy are targets, they (and their expensive tax advisers) tend to find ways around new laws aimed at their riches.
Moving beyond Capitol Hill for support: So now Patriotic Millionaires are trying to enlist those of us who are well below their tax bracket in the effort.
They held meetings this spring with residents of Whiteville, North Carolina, a town of just more than 5,000 about 50 miles west of Wilmington. Attendees of a series of meetings got a course in economics and inequality, as well as learned why Patriotic Millionaires wants and needs their help to make federal tax changes.
The groups plans to take the Tar Heel State pilot program to communities in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. It also has held similar online sessions.
Millionaires and wealth taxes: With Congress beginning tax talks, this weekend's Saturday Shout Outs go to stories on Patriotic Millionaires and their latest efforts to formalize higher tax rates for themselves and their peers.
Jennifer Ludden's piece, broadcast earlier this month on NPR's Morning Edition, expands on These millionaires want to tax the rich and they're lobbying working-class voters. Ludden story includes reactions from some of the Whiteville residents who participated in the sessions.
Sophie Charara's article for Wired, Millionaires Are Begging Governments to Tax Them More, explores the global effort to tax wealth. Advocates say it would promote economic stability and benefit everyone.
Wither a wealth tax: Finally, there's a look at the wealth tax concept. It is not a new idea. If you Google wealth tax, you'll find enough results to occupy your entire weekend and beyond.
It's also been the rallying cry of the progressive movement in the United States in recent presidential elections. Several erstwhile White House candidates continue to raise the topic in Congress, so far to no avail.
It's similarly unpopular worldwide. Only four European countries — Spain, Norway, Switzerland, and Belgium — collect net wealth taxes. France and Italy tax selected assets.
But this weekend, I'm focusing on a possible Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) hearing of a case that could determine the constitutionality of a U.S. wealth tax.
Wealth tax constitutionality: John P. Elwood, a partner at the Washington, D.C., law firm Arnold & Porter and teacher at the University of Virginia School of Law's Supreme Court litigation clinic, details the case in SCOTUSblog's most recent Relist Watch post.
The very short take is that a Washington State couple argues their federal tax bill on reinvested earnings in an India-based company and for which the couple received no payout is unconstitutional. They lost in federal district court, and a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel upheld the tax. The pair wants the country's highest court to overturn that ruling.
Elwood notes the plaintiff's contention "that the issue is directly relevant to the constitutionality of a wealth tax that some in Congress have been advocating in recent years."
You also can read more in the Wall Street Journal opinion piece Is a U.S. Wealth Tax Constitutional? The Editorial Board's answer is that the "bad Ninth Circuit ruling needs Supreme Court review."
UPDATE, June 26, 2023: The WSJ's Editorial Board's wish has come true. SCOTUS on Monday, June 26, announced it will hear the case that could OK, or block, plans to tax the rich.
As for me, today I'm going to balance my more than sufficient but not huge bank account, pay some bills with what's in there, and then watch baseball games. Do I know how to have fun, or what?
I hope you also enjoy your weekend and these Saturday Shout Outs, regardless of your wealth level.
You also might find these items of interest:
- Are you rich? This interactive tool tells you
- Most Americans OK with higher taxes for the rich
- Biden, as promised, seeks billionaire & business tax hikes in his FY24 budget
- $80 billion could help IRS increase audits of the wealthy, which have dropped in last decade