From Michael Bloomberg’s opinion piece at the New York Times today:
Across the country, taxpayers are providing pensions, benefits and job security protections for public workers that almost no one in the private sector enjoys. Taxpayers simply cannot afford to continue paying these costs, which are growing at rates far outpacing inflation. Yes, public sector workers need a secure retirement. And yes, taxpayers need top-quality police officers, teachers and firefighters. It’s the job of government to balance those competing needs. But for a variety of reasons, the scale has been increasingly tipping away from taxpayers.
Sounds oh so sensible, doesn’t it (who knew Bloomberg pays taxes)? And this gem:
Yet the problem is not unions expressing those rights; it is governments failing to adapt to the times and act in a fiscally responsible manner. If contract terms or labor laws from years past no longer make sense, we the people should renegotiate — or legislate — changes. Benefits agreed to 35 years ago that now are unaffordable should be reduced. Similarly, work rules that made sense 70 years ago but are now antiquated should be changed.
It’s rather like the school yard bully who stretches the back of your underpants over your head then insists you really, really should look into buying new underpants. The old ones no longer fit. Then runs off laughing.
Mike Bloomberg is a smart guy. He knows better. On the scale of wealth, the way he made his money is somewhat virtuous. He created a lot of jobs that have been sustained over decades. Bloomberg journalists tend to be thoughtful and rigorous, for example, not only reporting Steve Jobs got a transplant in 2009 but also reporting how Jobs gamed the organ donor system in a way only wealthy people can afford, by signing up to organ donor registries in multiple states then flying in on his private jet when an organ became available. Think someone who earns $20k/year can do that? Most likely they die before they get their donor transplant. Yet only Bloomberg reported that aspect of the story. Every other media outlet fell over themselves to worship Steve.
Despite the good parts of Bloomberg’s history, Bloomberg’s also a walking poster boy for publicly financed campaigns (having spent $100 million to effectively drown out any media message from his opponent, regardless of the merits of his opponent). Somehow blessing New Yorkers with his presence for a third term outweighed the public’s right to a mostly fair election. And the rest of his op-ed today is equally disingenuous: he treats pension payouts as if they were one-off payments when, in fact, they are deferred compensation that many states have deliberately de-funded for years so these states could “afford” tax cuts. He claims states have no money when most (all?) states have regressive taxes, the more you make the less you pay relative to your income.
As we’ve discussed ad nauseum, and the media, the President, and the political class ignore on purpose, there is a reason union wages are “higher” today than private sector wages. It’s the deliberate detaxation of the wealthiest for three decades combined with the equally deliberate cratering of earning power for the 99% of Americans who have to work for a living, from busting unions and offshoring jobs to endless mergers that destroy jobs (but make investors and senior managers fabulously wealthy). And even low-paying private jobs are subsidized by taxpayers. As of 2004, for example, every 200 Wal Mart employees cost the US taxpayers $200,000 in Section 8 housing, school lunches, and other poverty aid simply because Wal Mart can’t be bothered to pay workers more and fund the Walton family less.
What slays me the most, however, in reading this Op Ed is that Bloomberg is saying that his ability to keep, say, $100 million trumps the need of society to repair the roads, bridges, water systems, basic research, and all the rest that made that $100 million even possible. And that his ability to keep the money he’s collected trumps the need of society to pay for health care so poor people can live, not die.
Yet no one calls Bloomberg and his kind on this rather obvious conclusion. If you’re not selfish and greedy, what prevents you from paying taxes commensurate with your income to ensure a just society? Especially state taxes, which tend to be regressive: what prevents wealthy people from paying progressive state taxes? And, really, what is the difference between having $100 million in the bank earning $5 million a year ($400,000 a month) and having a billion at 5% return? It’s the Imelda Marcos syndrome: how many shoes are too many shoes? At what point does our need as a society to ensure a fair and just life for all trump the need of Mike Bloomberg to have one more dollar?
I’d like to make Mike Bloomberg a modest proposal. We’ve tried it his way for three decades with the de-taxation of the rich, the needless destruction of jobs, the over the top worship of greed. For the next three decades, let’s go back to where we were in the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s. And let’s not make this too complicated. Here’s my modest proposal every time someone like Bloomberg opens his yap to bad mouth working people and plead poverty even as his kind screw us ten ways to Sunday:
- 100% tax on income over $100 million earned in a year, no exceptions. 50% tax on income over $50 million to $100 million. No individual or family can control more than a billion dollars, and not for long. Put the money in an infrastructure bank.
- A one-time billionaire’s tax of 20% to refund the infrastructure that made that wealth possible, and ensure we can continue to create wealth.
- Estate taxes of only $10 million to each child, which can be shared with their spouses but not passed on to their children. $500,000 for each grandchild in the form of a college fund to pay for education throughout their lives (let ‘em go to Harvard as legacies). No welfare for grand kids or great grand kids (they didn’t earn it).
- A government run health care plan to finally free businesses from wasting money on health care for their employees. Public or private doesn’t matter as much as long as the government is last resort for people who are uninsurable (the way dialysis patients have been for decades).
- Restore the minimum wage to what it would be if it had been adjusted for inflation, then peg it to inflation.
- Make unionization easy until it is about 25-35% of the work force. Companies must either unionize or pay union level wages and benefits.
- Spend $150 billion a year every year to repair infrastructure that makes wealth possible, ensures our economy is directed into useful ways in the future, and ensures US jobs most everywhere in the country.
- Companies that pay no taxes or less than 15% tax in a year are subject to a minimum 15% tax the next year. No exceptions.
- Aggressively break up companies that are too big and bring back the Fairness Doctrine to force the media to report all sides of an issue, including pointing out when one side or another flat out lies.
For all the bitching and whining by the right, the fact is their program of detaxation and crushing workers has failed. The program above, in contrast, succeeded brilliantly for decades in creating a middle class and a decent life for people. You didn’t have to be rich to live comfortably. Enough with funding government on the backs of those who cannot pay. Let’s go where the money is, Mr. Bloomberg. Let’s say it is un-American for any individual or family to control more than a billion dollars. And since 99% of us will never have more than a million, if that, Bloomberg and his rich friends can still lord it over us about what lazy bums we are, how we deserve our relative poverty given our lack of income or wealth, and whatever scripts they want to run through their little heads.
We don’t want cake, Mike. We want food, jobs, health care, and the ability to lead quiet decent lives without being prey to people who have too much money, no sense, no shame, and no heart.
The only thing that prevents the US from having a society and economy like the Norwegians is a small group of maybe 100,000 people, most of them trust fund babies, who insist there is no money. BS.