Open Letter To The Wealthy: It's Time You're Forced To Pay For The Rest Of Us

Photo: Hyejin Kang / Shutterstock
Open Letter To The Wealthy: It's Time For You To Step Up Be Forced To Pay For The Rest Of Us
Self

Dear uber rich, It’s time you paid up. 

You see, you’ve convinced us to count on your generosity to fix the world’s problems. You’d like us to think of you as benevolent philanthropists with only the purest of intentions in mind. Sadly, that’s just not the truth. 

As it turns out, you’re not really looking to fix anything at all. You contribute just to make yourselves look better. 

A recent study out of the U.K. found that elite philanthropy, or donations by insanely rich people, is mostly a public relations effort to garner positive press. 

It works like this:

The playbook is to pick a cause that you’ve likely had your PR team run public opinion data to narrow down, and then commit some crazy-sounding amount of money that’s actually just a tiny fraction of your net worth. 

In fact, of all charitable giving by wealthy donors, it’s been discovered that donated funds constitute just .8% of your collected net worth. 

I spend more than .8% of my net worth on pens. 

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Charitable giving is about optics for you. And it’s about taxes. 

We know this because when the tax code changes, the amount of money that you donate lessens. In the 1980s, you halved the amount of your donations because you couldn’t deduct as much as before on your tax returns. As the deduction continues to decrease, your charitable giving continues to decrease. 

There’s nothing radical about this. All you’d have to do is pay your taxes. 

Dozens of huge multinational corporations don’t pay any taxes at all. None, zero, nada. And those are just the ones we know of. 

Loopholes for the wealthy like capital gains and other complexities in the tax code allow your finance teams to exploit mechanisms that allow you to pay less taxes than the average worker. Your 400 richest families pay less than practically anyone else

What would the world be like if the rich just paid their taxes?

The U.S. has one of the lowest effective tax rates of all industrial nations on the globe. But this wasn’t always the case. After the Great Depression, the New Deal spurred massive economic and infrastructure growth simultaneously, all while taking up to 75% of the top incomes. In 1944-5, the U.S. saw its highest tax rate ever, taking 94% from incomes over $200,000. 

Over the decades since then, Conservative policies have whittled down the tax rate for the wealthiest citizens, like yourselves, and shifted the onus to the working class through deliberately deceptive talking points. 

But what could we accomplish if the rates were still in line with other high-income countries? Infrastructure, healthcare, education reform, mental health support, social safety nets, global poverty and hunger abatement, just to name a few. All of the initiatives that are constantly belittled when they’re brought up because “How will we pay for them?” 

We won’t. You will. 

Just how are you using all the extra money you’re saving, anyway?

Contributing to worthy causes that lift your fellow humans from desperate situations? Not quite. 

You’re using it to contribute to… yourselves. 

In 2019, CEO bonuses increased by 14%. Compare this to the working class, who received just 4.6% in raises in the previous year. 

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Or, look at a longer timeline and see that from 1978 to 2019, CEO pay increased 1,167%

If minimum wage had kept up at that same rate of increase, it would be $33.58 an hour today. 

There are those who argue in your favor -- those who say that companies must put together obscenely competitive packages in order to attract top talent to serve as chief executive. But the numbers don’t pan out. The percentages don’t make sense. And it’s the workers who bring you value in the first place. Without workers, CEOs would have no products to sell. Yet you continue to squeeze the middle class out of existence with your greed. 

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You argue that you can’t pay workers fair wages because prices on consumer products would go up, or businesses would fail. And yet the experts say otherwise, and the data disagrees. Meanwhile, if you had paid your workers according to rising productivity levels all along, we wouldn’t be in this mess that you say we can’t fix in the first place. 

Plus, some wealthy idealists are making practical changes to benefit workers already, and the world is not exploding. 

Dan Price of Gravity Payments made waves when he announced a minimum wage of $70,000 for every employee at his company. At the time, most pundits joked about how he’d be back in the news when Gravity Payments went bankrupt. 

Instead, the company became a rousing success. And Price is an outspoken critic of people like you. He created so much additional productivity and loyalty that when the pandemic hit, 98% of staff volunteered to willingly reduce their salaries to keep Gravity Payments afloat. As soon as profits returned, employees were reimbursed. 

So it’s not that you can’t pay up, it’s just that you won’t. It’s time to change that. It’s time to take America’s wealth back and use it to fix our crumbling infrastructure and provide 21st-century systems for the wellbeing of all citizens. 

For far too long, the public has kowtowed to the idea that it’s up to individuals with lots of money to donate to causes when they feel like fixing things. You’ve had your way, and instead of making a good faith effort, you’ve taken advantage. Now it’s time we force you to pay for the rest of us, for real. 

You won’t do it on your own. We finally have the data to prove it.

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Kevin Lankes, MFA, is an editor and author. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Here Comes Everyone, Pigeon Pages, Owl Hollow Press, The Huffington Post, The Riverdale Press, and more.