By Bernie Sanders
The Guardian, August 11, 2020
We are in the middle of an extraordinary moment in American history: a public health crisis, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the existential threat of climate change and a president who is moving our country in an authoritarian direction.
In the midst of all these crises, there is another issue of major concern that is receiving very little attention. And that is the obscene level of income and wealth inequality which exists in our country and the fact that, during the pandemic, that inequality is becoming much worse.
While tens of millions of Americans are now facing economic desperation – unemployment, loss of healthcare, evictions, hunger – the very rich are becoming much richer. Here are three figures that should come as a shock to everyone in America:
$13,000,000,000. That’s how much Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest man alive, made in one day while the companies he owns denies paid sick leave, hazard pay and a safe workplace to hundreds of thousands of his workers.
$21,000,000,000. That’s how much the Walton family, the richest family in America, made over the past 20 weeks while US taxpayers continue to subsidize the starvation wages at Walmart, the largest private employer in America.
$731,000,000,000. That’s how much the wealth of 467 billionaires increased since the Federal Reserve started taking emergency actions to prop up the stock market in March.
Incredibly, thanks to President Trump’s tax giveaway to the rich signed into law a few years ago, billionaires now pay a lower effective tax rate than teachers, nurses, firefighters or truck drivers.
The extraordinary wealth gains that billionaires have made during the pandemic come at a time when 92 million Americans are uninsured or underinsured and tens of millions of Americans are facing evictions or foreclosures.
At a time when so many of our people are struggling economically, it is morally obscene that a tiny handful of billionaires – the top 0.0001% – are using a global pandemic as an opportunity to make outrageous profits after receiving a de facto bailout by the Federal Reserve.
It is time to change our national priorities. Instead of allowing multibillionaires to become much richer, Congress needs to stand up for working families. A good place to start would be to tax the enormous gains billionaires have made during the pandemic and use that money to guarantee healthcare as a right for the duration of the public health emergency.
According to Americans for Tax Fairness, imposing a 60% tax on the wealth gains made by just 467 billionaires in America would raise over $420bn. That’s enough money to empower Medicare to pay all of the out-of-pocket healthcare expenses of every American in this country, including prescription drugs, for an entire year.
Think about that for a moment. By imposing a 60% tax on the wealth gains made by just 467 billionaires, healthcare would be extended to everyone in America through Medicare and no one, regardless of their coverage, would have to pay any out-of-pocket medical bills over the next 12 months. That’s exactly what the Make Billionaires Pay Act I recently introduced with Senators Ed Markey and Kirsten Gillibrand would accomplish.
Under this legislation, no one who is diagnosed with cancer would have to beg for money from strangers on GoFundMe. No one with diabetes would die because they could not afford their insulin. No one with coronavirus symptoms would be afraid to go to a doctor because of the cost, and risk infecting their neighbors, colleagues, family or friends.
While the fight for Medicare for All continues, for at least the next 12 months, every American would be able to get the healthcare that they need during this public health crisis. And it could all be paid for by a 60% tax on the outsized fortunes the wealthiest people in America accumulated during this horrific pandemic.
Now, I understand that there are some people out there who may believe that a 60% tax sounds like a pretty steep tax increase. Well, let me ease those concerns. Even after paying this tax, these 467 billionaires will still come out ahead by $310bn. Trust me. Their families will survive.
As a nation, the time is long overdue for us to finally address the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality that exists. In my view, we can no longer tolerate the three wealthiest people in America owning more wealth than the bottom 50%, the top 1% owning more wealth than the bottom 92% and 45% of all new income going to the 1%.
At a time of enormous economic pain and suffering, we have a choice to make. We can continue to allow the very rich to get much richer while most everyone else gets poorer. Or we can tax the winnings a handful of billionaires made during the pandemic to improve the health and wellbeing of tens of millions of Americans.
The time has come for the Congress to act on behalf of the working class who are hurting like they have never hurt before, not the billionaire class who are doing phenomenally well and have never had it so good.
Making billionaires pay to expand Medicare to all during a public health emergency is a good place to start.
Make Billionaires Pay Act:
By Don McCanne, M.D.
Most people are now aware of the profound income and wealth inequality that has been increasing in the United States, but they may not be aware of the degree of the massive wealth accumulation by the billionaires that is taking place during this joint pandemic and economic crisis.
Bernie Sanders shows us the numbers: “According to Americans for Tax Fairness, imposing a 60% tax on the wealth gains made by just 467 billionaires in America would raise over $420bn. That’s enough money to empower Medicare to pay all of the out-of-pocket healthcare expenses of every American in this country, including prescription drugs, for an entire year.” Further, “Even after paying this tax, these 467 billionaires will still come out ahead by $310bn. Trust me. Their families will survive.”
But what about longer term financing of single payer Medicare for All? Numerous analyses have been done that show that, with fairly modest progressive taxes, health care can be made easily affordable for everyone. Billionaires would pay more but not enough to have any impact on their lifestyles. As one very successful vintner once told me during a conversation about why he didn’t want to further expand his vineyards, “How much bread, cheese and wine does a person need?”
Besides, where do the billionaires get their money? They don’t print it. It comes from the economy where most of the productivity derives from the efforts of the people. Why should such a large percentage of the gains of that productivity end up in the coffers of the billionaires? We do have a remedy for that. As mentioned, that is progressive taxes. If the billionaires get nervous about that, maybe we could offer them another splash of wine, along with a relaxing, soporific read of Thomas Piketty’s “Capital and Ideology.”
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