We Built It Together

Hammering an out-of-context quote from President Obama, "We Built It" became the theme of last week's Republican National Convention.

Virtually every speaker used the phrase, with sometimes misty-eyed stories of bootstrapping, "I did it alone" success (with no help from government). Signs featuring the phrase hung over the main stage and filled the convention center, boasting: We built it! We built it! We built it!

Meanwhile, fact checkers, writers, and progressive organizations fired back, both recounting the full quote from President Obama (his "You didn't build that" comment was referring to the roads and infrastructure, not the businesses themselves) and making the case for why businesses do, in fact, depend heavily on public investments. 

This debate is only getting started. As NRP's Ron Elving wrote, "The central theme… in Tampa is about to become the party's mantra for the fall." So get used to a lot of talk about who actually built it, what they built, and why it matters. Looking beyond this one election, this is a critical debate about core values that shape our views on taxes and the role of government in our society.

In March, months before Obama's statement in Virginia, we published a book entitled The Self-Made Myth: And the Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed. In it, we contrast the "self-made myth" with the "built-together reality." Little did we know when we came up with the term "built-together," that this would become a defining theme of this election cycle.

The stories of business leaders tell a more honest and complete story of their success. Jerry Fiddler, founder of Wind River Systems (sold to Intel for $880M), talks about publicly-funded research and land-grand universities as key to his business success. Jim Sherblom, former CFO of the Genzyme, notes the importance of the SEC in providing a stable financial market. Kim Jordan, CEO of New Belgium Brewing, declares "beer is heavy" as she emphasized the importance of roads and transportation infrastructure in making her business possible.

We also investigated people like the Koch Brothers who graze their cattle on federal land and use eminent domain law for their pipelines. We examine Donald Trump, whose father constructed FHA-guaranteed homes for US naval personnel, leaving the junior Trump with a sizable inheritance. Similarly, Ross Perot's software business rode to success on the backs of the federal Medicare program.

Governmental supports and public infrastructure are an important part of any success story in America, along with a bit of luck, various head starts in life, privilege, and the contributions of others, including the many employees (The AFL-CIO responded to last weeks convention theme with an email titled, "No, WE built it"). Such an honest and more rounded assessment helps put the "self-made" narrative in perspective.

But that's not what we heard last week. We heard, "I built it," and from that bootstrapping narrative comes a host of policy implications. 

If they can convince us that the successful business leaders achieve their wealth through gumption and hard work alone, then extreme inequality is simply the result from their exceptional intelligence and hard work of those at the top …and the sloth of others. Efforts to rein in that inequality are thus viewed as "punishing success." Efforts of workers to demand a fair wage are viewed as "thuggary." Taken to its logical conclusion, this frame helps to fuel an anti-tax, anti-government, and anti-worker agenda.

The business leaders we spoke with understand that their hard work was matched in many ways by the contributions of society, not to mention a good bit of luck. As such, they take a very different view on taxes and the role of government, actively speaking out for a strong estate tax and ending the Bush tax cuts for top income-earners. Many also insist on paying their workers fair wages, or even sharing ownership with their workers.

In the weeks ahead, we have an opportunity to open a more meaningful discussion about the origins of individual and business success, and in doing so, shifting the public policy debates in positive ways. We sincerely hope our book, The Self-Made Myth, is a valuable contribution to this discussion. But we also need writers, bloggers, and organizers across the nation to pick up on this message. If we're going to create a new narrative, we'll need to "build it" together.
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Save Oregon's Estate Tax!

Tax Fairness Oregon, a member of UFE's Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative, needs your help today. They need 600+ signatures of Oregon voters to place a statement of opposition to Kevin Mannix’s effort to repeal the Oregon estate tax in the November voters' pamphlet.

Signatures from you and others in your community will help Tax Fairness Oregon get the following statement placed at no cost so they can use those resources for other important work:

Millionaires can pay taxes — Vote "NO" on Measure 84

  • Only the 730 richest Oregon families would benefit from Measure 84.
    • Vote "NO" on MEASURE 84
  • Millionaires would pay as little as $0 tax if Measure 84 passes.
    • Vote "NO" on MEASURE 84

Millionaires too can pay their fair share of taxes. 

Vote "NO" on Measure 84.

(Signed by more than 600 friends of Tax Fairness Oregon)

Click here to download a petition form (pdf). Print the forms and carefully follow the enclosed instructions.

Please aim to fill two sheets with gathered signatures or just send in your very own signature. All gatherers and signers must be registered Oregon voters.

Don't forget to sign and date the bottom of the signature sheet before mailing the form to:

Tax Fairness Oregon
c/o 4619 SE 44th Ave
Portland, OR 97206

   

Phone: 503-788-5347
(SE 44th just south of Holgate Blvd.)

Petitions must be submitted in Salem by 5:00 p.m. next Tuesday, August 14. You are also welcome to personally deliver your signature sheets to the address above by noon on Tuesday.

Oregon's estate tax has been in place for 109 years without hurting Oregon businesses and family farms. It is a fair and sensible policy that provides the state with revenue for schools, infrastructure, and other shared priorities. And, it has the added benefit of helping to combat economic inequality. Learn more about Measure 84 >>

Oregon can't afford to give special tax breaks to those who don't need them, especially during this moment of economic hardship. 

Please vote "NO" on Measure 84 on November 6.

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How Much Do You Really Know About Wealth Distribution?

What would your ideal distribution of wealth in the United States be? You may not realize it, but if this research by Dan Ariely is any indicator, you likely prefer wealth to be held much more evenly than is currently the case in our country.

The gap between people's perceptions versus the reality of wealth distribution was the topic of a WNHN "Political Chowder" interview with UFE’s Steve Schnapp. Ariely and Norton found that many in the US are not fully aware of how dramatically unequal our economy has become.

Listen now:

We may be unaware of wealth inequalities, but do we want a more equal society? Research suggests that the answer is an overwhelming 'YES!' The commanding majority of those polled expressed a strong preference for a society in which wealth was distributed far more equitably. Need more reason for optimism? Those responses transcend political boundaries, with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents represented among those who desire a more equal distribution of wealth.

In light of Ariely's findings, we have to begin asking why our public policies are reinforcing—and making worse—economic inequality. The basic values of fairness and hard work as a means to move up the economic ladder that we hold so dear appear absent as we continue to witness the accumulation of great fortunes among so few people, even as so many millions continue to struggle.

Steve takes aim at the dominant narrative of the wealthy achieved such financial enrichment simply by virtue and hard work, which is an incomplete and misleading picture of how wealth is created. (Learn more with UFE's book, The Self-Made Myth.)

Ariely's data presents a compelling case for a shift in public policy priorities, but he doesn't get into the how of moving from research to social change. Steve points to community education and organizing as necessary strategies to break that paradigm and to bring people together to fight for a people's economy.

The Occupy Movement also showed us that it is possible to unite around a common cause and to draw the world's attention to the root causes of inequality. Our economic system is tilted in favor of the wealthy and is dangerously unaccountable to the people. Wall Street and the big banks sent our country into the Great Recession. We the taxpayers bailed them out. Now they've more than bounced back, but too many of us in the real economy, not the casino economy, have not.

A powerful movement for social and economic justice has to start somewhere. Why not start by asking the people around us what they know. As with Ariely's study, Steve asks listeners to consider what kind of economy they want. He challenges them to think about whether their values are reflected in our current reality. If not, he urges them to join and support groups fighting to improve their communities, states, country, and, ultimately, their world.

Inequality is worse than you thought. What are you going to do about it?

Related post: Economic Inequality: What We Think vs. What's Real

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Go Back to Mayberry?

andy griffith showThis is a fun read and a great way to raise community awareness of the real story behind the economic crisis and racial inequality. A friend of UFE sent this letter to the editor of his local paper (The Winchester Star) in response to a misguided attack on immigrants. And it got published! If you grew up on The Andy Griffith Show, you'll enjoy this...

"One of the local malcontents wrote a letter to the editor about how we should all go back to Mayberry, before all these immigrants and freeloaders showed up. My response:

So I have good news and bad news.

The good news? You can go back to Mayberry any time you want. The bad news? That's because it's a TV show!!

But back in the real world, you seem to be disappointed with people who don't work hard, don't contribute, and don't go to church. So I know, despite your reference to immigration, that you aren't worried about Latino immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants. They all work, because if they don't work, they can't stay here, since they are not eligible for most benefit programs. They pay into Social Security at their jobs, even though they will never see a penny of it. And boy do they go to church.

Church membership is pretty high in the African-American community too, and most African-Americans have jobs if they can get em.

OK, so I know then who you are upset about when you write about folks taking advantage of the system. It's the large finance corporations that got the laws rewritten for them, and the Koch Brothers who are busy getting environmental regulations rewritten so they won't be held accountable when they cause deaths and disease. You're talking about the fact that the wealth gap has grown enormously (see http://www.faireconomy.org) and taxes on the rich have dropped since "Mayberry days," and that both Democrats and Republicans are in bed with the rich. So, welcome to Occupy Wall Street, Mayberry version!

By the way, you apparently didn't notice that the big banks and Wall Street took care of that immigration issue you are so concerned about. When they crashed the economy with fraudulent mortgage-backed securities, net immigration ground to a halt. Large numbers of immigrants lost their homes here, lost their jobs, and decided they were better off in their nation of birth. So I guess that's the good news for you. As our economy goes sour for everyone but the super-rich, we are less attractive to immigrants. Only healthy economies that are fair to everyone attract newcomers seeking jobs and creating businesses.

Sorry, Deputy Fife. We are not going back to Mayberry. But we don't have to keep going downhill either. Here's a good start -- ditch the Bush tax cuts for billionaires, reinstate Glass-Stegall, break up the biggest financial megacorps, and stop going to war for control of oil. Do all that, and you'll be surprised how things improve.

Heck, you will probably find yourself whistling down to the ol' fishin' hole."

(h/t to our friend and former board member, Larry Yates of Virginia)

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VIDEO: Reflections on Popular Economics Education

Now THIS is how you create a movement. Newly minted Popular Economics Educators reflect on their experience at UFE's most recent Training of Trainers Institute, held June 21-24th in Baltimore.

Popular education is an education that is "of the people." Rather than the traditional lecture format of traditional schooling, popular education creates an environment where people learn by reflecting, talking, and thinking together.

United for a Fair Economy has been a leader in training hundreds of Popular Economics Educators across the country to facilitate learning in communities most impacted by economic inequality. Several Training of Trainers Institutes (ToTs) are held throughout the year in various parts of the country.

You can learn more, request a workshop, or stay in the loop about our next Training of Trainers Institute by joining our mailing list.

UFE's Training of Trainers Institute: A Reflection from United for a Fair Economy on Vimeo.

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Hyatt Hurts - Take Action

Housekeepers nationwide need your help. If you’ve ever stayed at a Hyatt and had a good night’s sleep, you have a housekeeper to thank for your fresh sheets and fluffed pillows. But invisible to hotel guests is the pain and hardship that housekeepers endure to provide us with an atmosphere of comfort and luxury.

That’s why this week Hyatt housekeepers are launching a global boycott of Hyatt. Please take two seconds to support them by voting Hyatt the Worst Hotel Employer in America and supporting the boycott.

Why is Hyatt the worst? Hyatt has replaced career housekeepers with temp workers earning minimum wage. Hyatt housekeepers have heavy workloads that can lead to debilitating pain and injuries. Hyatt has fired women shortly after they have spoken out about abuse and indignities at work. And Hyatt even turned heat lamps on workers protesting these conditions during a brutal Chicago heat wave.

Worldwide, we are calling on two million people to take a stand and Vote Hyatt Worst.  By joining together, we will urge Hyatt to change its ways. Please join the boycott, vote them the worst employer in the country and share your vote.

This post was produced by HyattHurts.org. Please support the Hyatt Hurts campaign.

Hyatt Hurts! They’re the Worst!

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Robin Hood is STILL Right

Working Americans and rich and famous people support the Robin Hood Tax!

Robin Hood and his ragtag crew who took from the rich to give to the poor were simply serving justice in an unfair medieval economy. Today, feudal lords protected by high castle walls do not rule our economy, but we are again living in an age of extreme income and wealth inequality.

The big banks and Wall Street speculators are now the ones reaping enormous rewards and ruling over the economy while programs that serve the poor and middle class are slashed, which only serves to further enrich the wealthy by keeping their taxes low.

The Robin Hood tax is an idea that’s been around for a while. In our current age of austerity and Wall Street gambling, it’s an idea whose time has come. It is a financial transaction tax, a few pennies on each bet that the big banks make in the financial casino at the heart of the modern economy. The big banks would pay the vast majority of the Robin Hood tax and it would have two extremely positive results:

  1. It would raise billions of dollars that could be used to prevent cuts to vital social programs. The tax – even at pennies or even just fractions of pennies per transaction – would raise enormous sums from the immense volume of trades conducted on Wall Street.
  2. It would slightly discourage banks and financial institutions from making so many risky bets. High volume and high frequency trading make Wall Street a little bit richer but provide no social benefit and make the entire financial system riskier and more prone to crashes. A small disincentive to making so many trades would be a positive for the entire economy, and the tax isn’t so large that it would discourage genuinely profitable trades.
UFE at Robin Hood Tax Rally
UFE staff and interns joined the Massachusetts Nurses Association at the Robin Hood Tax Campaign launch in Boston.

Wall Street and the big banks are exploiting our system and people to generate never-before-seen profits. Meanwhile, the middle class is fading, poverty remains unshakable, people are losing their homes, health care costs are spiraling out of control, education is being pushed out of reach for millions, and there’s no meaningful job creation plan in sight.

A Robin Hood-like hero will not rescue us. Together, however, we can achieve truly heroic feats. We need revenue, and we need to raise it without further harming low- to middle-income families.

A global movement is working to develop support for the Robin Hood tax, and campaigns were recently launched in cities across the U.S. Your support can help to persuade world leaders to listen up and take action. Please join the Robin Hood Tax Campaign and help to build support in your own community.

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FREE WEBINAR: After the Gift: How to build donor loyalty

How can organizations working for tax fairness cultivate a strong and loyal donor base? This free Tax Fairness Tune-Up webinar will provide practical tips for grassroots organizers to build a strong donor program to keep supporters engaged year after year. Register today!

FREE TAX FAIRNESS TUNE-UP WEBINAR TRAINING:
After the Gift: How to build donor loyalty
Thursday, July 19, 2012
1:00 PM - 2:15pm EDT


Register Now!

What do your donors want after they give? Why do they stop donating? And how can you increase the commitment, satisfaction and trust of your donors? This free Tax Fairness Tune-Up webinar will answer all these questions and provide you with lots of concrete tips for building a strong donor program that keeps your supporters giving year after year.

Presented by Tina Cincotti, owner and principal consultant of Funding Change, with over 15 years of development experience. Funding Change specializes in working with small nonprofits and has a particular focus on assisting grassroots groups working for social change. Register now!

WATCH VIDEOS OF ARCHIVED TUNE-UPS

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UFE has Moved!

We wish to inform all our members, partners, and the public that United for a Fair Economy's offices have moved! Our new location and address is:

1 Milk Street, 5th floor
Boston, MA 02109

The new office is located in the Downtown Crossing area of Boston—just around the corner from our previous location—and just minutes from all lines of the MBTA.

Our phone number remains 617-423-2148.

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Eight Reasons You Should Agree With Will Smith on Taxes

"America has been fantastic" to Will Smith. Like those profiled in our book, The Self-Made Myth, the 43 year-old actor, who makes an average salary of $36 million and has an estimated net worth of $215 million, knows much of his success wouldn't have been possible anywhere else but here in the U.S. As such, he has "no problem" paying higher taxes for the good of the country.

Here are eight reasons why you should agree that the rich should pay higher taxes:

  1. Tax rates on the richest U.S. households are at historic lows.
  2. The share of national income going to the top 1% has reached a historic high.
  3. The richest 1% have all but recovered from the Great Recession, while the bottom 99% experience stagnation.
  4. Low taxes increase economic inequality.
  5. Lower tax rates do not lead to economic growth.
  6. Low taxes on the rich worsens the racial economic divide. (pdf)
  7. Historically, the wealthiest Americans have paid higher taxes during wartime (like right now).
  8. He is the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. His break-through role was about a young man's infiltration of the top 1%. Now, he's actually in the top 1% and believes very wealthy people like himself should pay higher taxes. Considering the facts above, we should all agree.

In case you're unfamiliar with the show, the opening sequence sets the premise. Enjoy!

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What was YOUR share of the Bush tax cuts?

What was YOUR share of the Bush tax cuts?
 
Obamas' share of the Bush tax cuts
 
Take the Tax Pledge to help ensure the Obamas, the Romneys and other wealthy Americans pay their fair share!

This is a critical year for tax fairness. The Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the stroke of midnight on December 31st. Those tax breaks were a bad idea from the get-go, because they largely went to upper-income households that didn't need them.

We should let the Bush tax cuts expire—it's one of the only ways to meaningfully address our revenue crisis and make long-overdue investments in our economy. But, it's going to take bold action to ensure Congress and President Obama do the right thing by allowing them to expire.

United for a Fair Economy and Responsible Wealth are calling on progressive tax advocates throughout the country to support the movement to end the Bush tax cuts and restore fairness to the federal tax code. You can show your support today in three easy steps:

Calculate your savings from the Bush-era tax cuts by entering three numbers (or rough estimates) from your tax return into our tax cut calculator. 
 
Take the Responsible Wealth Tax Fairness Pledge to "reject" the Bush tax cuts. 
 
Donate your savings to the tax fairness organization of your choice.

Join Responsible Wealth members Marnie Thompson and Stephen Johnson of Greensboro, NC, both of whom will take the pledge again this year. Last year, their savings were over $12,000. Each year, they donate their savings to UFE's efforts to end the Bush tax cuts, strengthen the estate tax, "tax wealth like work" by raising the capital gains rate, and support state-level tax fairness organizing.

Thanks to the support of committed progressive tax activists like Marnie, Stephen, and many others, this work is producing results. More people are learning that our tax code is tilted in favor of the wealthy. And more people are taking action to bring the fight for progressive tax policies to Capitol Hill and to state capitols across the country.

We can make significant progress by demanding that Congress and President Obama do absolutely nothing by allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire at the end of the year. But, it won't be that easy. It's going to take a lot of work over the next eight months—awareness-raising, organizing, educating, and mobilizing—and we need all the help we can get.

If you believe our tax code is rigged in favor of the wealthy and that the richest Americans should pay their fair share, then make a bold statement in support of progressive tax policies by taking the Responsible Wealth Tax Fairness Pledge today.

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Tax Time Media Highlights

The Great Recession has worsened inequality, and the wealthiest Americans have emerged unscathed—richer in some cases. Meanwhile, conservative officials are hacking away at programs for struggling poor and middle class households. Shared sacrifice is more important now than it has ever been. That's what we're fighting for and we hope you'll join us.

United for a Fair Economy and Responsible Wealth have been working on several fronts this month to spread word that the wealthiest Americans need to pay their fair share in taxes. Why? Because they've benefitted the most from our collective investments and should pay it forward so others have the opportunity to do the same.

Here are a few highlights of the coverage we've earned through our various efforts.


WATCH NOW

We participated in a Congressional briefing with a tax fairness all star panel moderated by the intrepid John Nichols of The Nation magazine. The event banded together representatives from five outstanding organizations, including Responsible Wealth director Mike Lapham, to discuss ways to generate federal revenue and revive our suffocating economy by raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations.

Our efforts paid off in a big way. The night before the event, we received word that C-SPAN would be there to nationally broadcast the discussion. It was a standing room only event with a very engaged audience. The country watched, learned and shared. And, so can you.

The Congressional briefing was the opening act for President Obama's address on the Buffett Rule. He enlisted the support of four millionaires, including Responsible Wealth supporter Abigail Disney, to stand with him in support of the millionaires' tax.

David Levine
David Levine

David Levine, Responsible Wealth supporter and former chief economist for investment management firm Sanford C. Bernstein, participated in another panel discussion with the Tax Policy Center.

The panelists explored this basic question: "Should the rich pay higher taxes?" David's expert perspective on marginal income tax rates garnered a citation on MSNBC.com and an extensive interview by Ezra Klein at the Washington Post.

Eric Schoenberg
Eric Schoenberg

One of our most active Responsible Wealth members, former investment banker and current Columbia professor of behavioral economics, Eric Schoenberg, spoke at a tax day rally in DC and blasted away at leading tax grump Grover Norquist. Eric's words were well-received by the energized crowd and are now making their way through the progressive blogosphere.

UFE's federal tax expert Lee Farris went on Between the Lines radio to discuss sensible ways to address our revenue crisis, including the Buffett Rule, ending the Bush tax cuts, "taxing wealth like work" by raising the capital gains rate and strengthening the federal estate tax. Listen now.

Responsible Wealth and our allies working with other affluent fair tax advocates have been making so much noise from the east coast that they heard us clear across the country. The San Francisco Chronicle threw us all a shout-out this week in a column about wealthy people of the west coast demanding that their taxes be raised.

This work is ongoing, and we can always use more support. You can still take action to help move a fair tax agenda forward. One specific way is to calculate your share of the awful Bush-era tax cuts and redirect those savings toward tax fairness organizing efforts by taking Responsible Wealth's Tax Fairness Pledge.

As an added treat, here are some photos from the tax day rally we joined in Boston. There were a lot of feet on the street, a lot of creative demonstrations and a lot of voices calling on Bank of America and other financial giants to stop tax dodging and pay their fair share. After all, we did bail them out. Now it's time to get ours. Yes, the tax justice movement is-a growin'.


Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

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