“Patriotic Millionaires”

Admirable Citizens?

Recently members of the group calling themselves “Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength” sent a letter to Pres. Barack Obama, Harry Reid (Majority Leader in the U. S. Senate), and John Boehner (Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives). What made the letter notable was that it requested that “you increase taxes on incomes over $1,000,000”—the letter then being signed by a long list of millionaires.

The letter claimed that the signers were all “loyal citizens” who recognized that “Our country faces a choice—we can pay our debts and build for the future, or we can shirk our financial responsibilities and cripple our nation’s potential.” The signers recognized, “Our country has been good to us. It provided a foundation through which we could succeed.” And in recognizing that their success was not just a result of their personal attributes, they added that “we want to do our part to keep that foundation strong so that others can succeed as we have.”

They concluded: “Please do the right thing for our country. Raise our taxes.”

Ostensibly, these individuals are deserving of praise, for they not only realize (seemingly) that the society they live in has provided them with opportunities that they have simply taken advantage of. In addition, they express appreciation for those opportunities—and want (or so they say) to do their part in ensuring that “others can succeed as we have

I suppose that one should be heartened by this letter. But for several reasons, I find it difficult to generate much enthusiasm regarding this gesture on their part.

First, I question whether they are motivated solely (or at all?!) by the principle of fairness—regarding taxation specifically. I suspect that these individuals are knowledgeable enough to recognize that our economy is teetering on the brink, and also know that the federal government likely won’t act to prevent economic collapse. Thus, they know that if they don’t act, it’s likely the economy will collapse. In acting to prevent this from occurring, they will be making a societal contribution, true, but also acting in their own interests. For if the economy collapses, they may cease being millionaires in consequence.

In justifying their proposal they give the impression that their primary interest is the country and its “potential” —and that they are altruistic besides. For they claim an interest in seeing “others … succeed as we have.” But these justifications strike me as phony—as simply diverting attention from their self-interest in not having the economy collapse—an event which would affect them adversely. We ordinary folk would be affected even more, of course, but I doubt that these millionaires have much concern for that fact.

Second, if these individuals are such “good citizens,” the question arises: Why do they focus on taxation-revenue to the exclusion of how the federal government spends the money it takes in? Are they not concerned with the fact that our imperial adventurism, with its huge military budget, is (among other things) a tremendous drag on our economy? Are they not aware that that adventurism has resulted in “blowback” that not only is used to justify further military expenditures, but also to justify “security” measures in this country that have curtailed our freedoms? Are they unable to see that we are moving ever more in a fascistic direction? Do they even care?

The question, relative to this, that I would like to see answered regarding these individuals is: How many of them are “feeding from the government’s trough”? I possess no evidence that any of them are, but I have my suspicions—based, in part, on their apparent lack of concern regarding expenditures being made by the federal government. The apparent fact that their interest seems to be merely on keeping the economy going suggests to me that their focus is just on the immediate future—and the maintenance of their wealth.

I would have more enthusiasm for the request made by these individuals if it were combined with some recognition that attention needs to be given to more than just the short run. These individuals seem to perceive the future as simply a succession of todays—so that a phenomenon such as “global warming” is simply not on their “mental maps.” That being the case, they are either unaware of the fact that, e.g., James Lovelock predicts that few members of our species will be alive by the end of this century, or are aware of his prediction, but choose to ignore it.1

Which is unfortunate—and even somewhat surprising. For given that these individuals are aware (ostensibly) that their wealth has a societal basis, one would think that they would have more vision. The title of Ralph Nader’s 2009 novel Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us may very well be correct—insofar as we can be “saved.” However, I see no evidence that members of the “Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength” group are interested in anything but the short run. True, their letter makes reference to “the future,” but these individuals seem to view “the future” as merely a continuation of the present, not something drastically different. The “givens” that they tacit accept regarding the future, seemingly, are highly questionable, given the science of “climate change.”

If they have even a minimum of “liberal education,” they will recognize that economic activities, because they involve energy usage, and the energy involved is derived primarily from “fossil fuels” (e.g., coal, petroleum, natural gas), those activities contribute to “global warming.” To reduce that “contribution,” it would therefore be necessary for individuals to use (directly and indirectly) less energy on a per capita basis and/or use just energy derived from “safe” sources. Either of those options would involve significant changes in the economy; and these millionaires are surely knowledgeable enough to realize that progress in making those changes will not result from a change in the tax code—will not even result from governmental actions, for that matter. Progress might, however, result if these individuals recognized “whither we are tending” (to quote from Abraham Lincoln’s famous “House Divided” speech) and their potential role in changing our society’s direction.

What should they do instead of lobbying for tax reform? That’s for them to determine. My only advice is: Decide how you can help your fellow citizens adapt to the inevitable societal changes that lie ahead, and then act on those ideas. Those actions will not prevent “runaway” from occurring, with the subsequent loss of most of the world’s population. They may, however, result in at least some members of our species adapting to the inevitable changes that will be occurring.

  1. The latter would not be surprising, given the abundance of “deniers” in our society. For an explanation. []

Al Thompson works (data management) for an engineering (avionics) firm in Milwaukee. His e-mail address is: A.Thompson@Astronautics.com. Read other articles by Alton.