16. Enlist the Enlightened Super-Rich
There are indeed some really rich people driving politics these days. At the top of the list are David and Charles Koch. They – the Kochs and many others of the 1% – funnel huge amounts of money into the political process, both at the national and state levels. And they are successful at bending Congress and state legislators to their will.
The current GOP healthcare plan is an example of this. It is hugely unpopular with ordinary citizens. So why is Congress so intent on passing it? Because the rich want it.
But not all rich people are like that. Some are actually progressives.
There is a long history of rich people supporting such causes as abolition, women’s right to vote, and breaking up monopolistic oil. And with the rise of the tech millionaires, that wealth should be tapped again.
An example where that worked: In 2005, William Gates, Sr. (father of Microsoft Bill) recruited a thousand rich people to oppose the repeal of the estate tax. He teamed with an economic expert to write a little book “about the responsibility to pay the estate tax as payback for all the help that rich people like them have received over their lifetimes.” They spent millions over three years on this campaign.
An example that failed: In 2003 George Soros spoke out against going to war in Iraq, joining the voices of many outspoken former military and diplomatic people. But Soros didn’t put his money on the table – $200 million out of a wealth of more than $2 billion would have done it. And America started a disastrous war.
Another failure: Warren Buffet called on Congress to change tax laws so that “billionaires like me pay more in taxes.” He did a lot of talking about fairness, both to Congress and fellow rich people. But he hasn’t put his wealth behind the effort. And Congress is itching to do the opposite of what Buffet campaigned for.
Yes, lots of rich people donate the money for libraries, new college buildings, and hospitals. But there is a difference between charity and justice. “Money to charity eases the problem; money to justice destroys the problem.” This is the reason: spend the money on justice and everyone, including the rich, live in a better world.
In 2009 the estimated wealth of the Forbes 400 richest people in America to be about $1200 billion. Most of half of that ($600 billion) is “dead money,” only accumulating interest or dividends. It could be live money, by funding justice, by creating a better society.
How much would it cost to get single-payer health insurance, prison and drug policy reform, a living wage, severe reductions in corporate crime and fraud, voluntary public funding of public campaigns, and organized consumer watchdog groups? How much would it cost to place our country on a sure path to replacing fossil fuels and nuclear power with renewable energies and massive energy efficiency technology? How much would it cost to implement electoral reforms, such as ending the practice of gerrymandering or removing ballot access obstructions to give voters a choice of many candidates of varied agendas? How much would it cost to enact a sales tax on Wall Street trading transactions, which would bring in hundreds of billions of dollars a year to salvage budgets and lighten up taxes on workers? How much would it take to enact the kind of carbon tax that’s been favored even by ExxonMobil? …
Unlike most major social changes – which rely on the kinds of behavioral change that’s almost impossible to mandate – these popular proposals need only to go through Congress and the president to take effect – and they already have solid intellectual, empirical, and public support. The only question is how much money it will take to organize a successful campaign to get them enacted.
As for who will provide these funds, the answer should be clear. The enlightened super-rich – those who are interested not just in money but in justice.
Without justice there can be no freedom and no liberty. “Philanthropy” means “love of mankind.” Collective love is at the core of justice. The wealthiest among us, those who have the broadest horizons to put forces in motion, should embrace that work as their own highest calling.