Inherited Fortunes Should Be Taxed

What if there was a way to bring in substantial new revenue to pay for vital public services? What if we could generate that revenue exclusively from those who can best afford it, the estates of millionaires and billionaires, and at the same time reduce economic inequality? We'd be crazy to not do it, right? Well, the good news is that a strong estate tax will do exactly that.

At a time when so many essential government programs are facing painful cuts or even elimination as a result of low federal revenues, restoring a strong estate tax can be a big step toward solving some of the problems facing our federal budget and addressing the growing epidemic of persistent economic inequality. There is a bill currently in congress, The Sensible Estate Tax Act (H.R. 3467), that would be an excellent estate tax reform.

The American's for a Fair Estate Tax (AFET) coalition, which is made up of more than seventy national and state groups including membership organizations, advocacy groups and labor unitions, just sent a letter urging congress to pass H.R. 3467 (PDF). Among the reasons AFET supports H.R. 3467:

  • The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that federal estate and gift taxes will generate $516 billion in revenue from 2013 through 2022, assuming that the 2010 estate and gift tax cut expires as scheduled at the end of 2012.
  • Other policy options would be fiscally irresponsible. CBO found that extending the estate tax reduction in effect for 2011 and 2012, which increased the estate tax exemption to $5 million per spouse and reduces the top estate tax rate to 35 percent, would cost $432 billion over the following decade.
  • Existing tax breaks would continue to protect small businesses and farms under either the pre-2001 rules or the Sensible Estate Tax Act. A CBO analysis (PDF) found that only 0.3 percent of taxable estates were either family held-business estates or estates of farmers and lacked sufficient liquid assets (like cash, stocks, and bonds) to pay the estate tax. That’s why opponents of the estate tax have not been able to find a single farm that had to be sold to pay the tax.

The Sensible Estate Tax Act would also make important reforms that reunify the gift and estate tax exclusions; make permanent the portability of the exemption for spouses; restore the state credit to provide critical revenue for states without increasing taxes; close loopholes in the asset valuation and minority discount rules; among a number of other reforms.

It's a great bill. Unfortunately, every Republican tax proposal includes eliminating the estate tax, and President Obama supports extending the estate tax at its lowest level from the Bush tax cuts. Neither of these options is nearly good enough. That's why AFET is pressuring congress and building support for the Sensible Estate Tax Act.

For more on AFET's support of H.R. 3467, read our press release.

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The Immigration Debate Goes Hollywood

A Better Life star Demián Bichir discusses his role as an undocumented day laborer

We like a movie with a call for justice, and A Better Life is the newest on our must-watch list. This critically acclaimed film has the potential to better shape our views on immigration policy or, rather, the issues that lead to immigration into the US.

The story, set in East L.A., follows Carlos Galindo, an undocumented single father who struggles as a day laborer to make a future of peace, opportunity and economic stability possible for his US-born son.

The movie struck a chord with UFE's Jeannette Huezo:

"People watching A Better Life can see the immigration debate through a human lens. This film can help people to see the social costs of policies that attack immigrants and tear their families apart. Thousands of people face the same challenges and devastations as the Galindos everyday. Anti-immigrant laws like those passed in Alabama, Arizona, California, and other states make those stories all the more frequent."

Immigration policy and immigrant-related issues continue to be a political third rail. A lot of that has to do with the complexity of the issue(s). It's not just an immigration problem. It's about cheap labor. It's about international trade and foreign policy. It's about national security. It's about human rights. It's about a lot of things, and despite what you might hear from mainstream media, it can't boiled down to a soundbite because it's connected to a lot of rarely connected issues.

George Lakoff points out the difficulty of the framing of the immigration issue in our environment of political polarization:

"[The immigration issue] is a complex melange of social, economic, cultural and security concerns — with conservatives and progressives split in different ways with different positions. Framing the recent problem as an 'immigration problem' pre-empts many of these considerations from entering the debate. As a consequence, any reform that 'solves' the immigration problem is bound to be a patchwork solution addressing bits and pieces of much larger concerns."

No one wins with policies that attack immigrants and cause the forced abandonment of children by undocumented parents. Still, there are a lot of xenophobic politicians and pundits out there who zealously support those policies. Ironically, those are often the same talking heads that endlessly beat their "family values" drums, especially during campaign season.

Help to move the public conversation in a better direction by sharing the film with your network. Stop the scapegoating of immigrants by encouraging a more robust dialogue about the many factors that contribute to our "immigration problem." As more people see the bigger picture and take action for immigrant rights, we'll build more power for a rational policy response.

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Thumbnail graphic h/t NDLON

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Challenging Conservative Business Icons’ “Self-Made” Claims

The iconic "self-made" businessman is a tired and false cliche; it's time for a more honest national dialogue about what makes wealth and success possible. And a new book by two UFE staffers aims to do just that. 

The Self-Made Myth—And the Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed, released this month by UFE executive director Brian Miller and Responsible Wealth project director Mike Lapham, exposes the false claim that business success is solely the result of the heroic effort of a single individual. The book contend that, among other supports, businesses are built atop public structures and services established and maintained by taxpayers’ collective investments made through government. As such, they owe something back to society.

“Debunking the self-made myth is critical, particularly during an election year where taxes and the role of government are center-stage,” says Brian Miller in a press statement released today. “We wrote this book because how we view wealth creation and individual success shapes our choices on policies, including taxes, regulations, public investments in schools and infrastructure, CEO pay, and more.”
             
Since the Reagan presidency, those involved in the broader conservative movement have based their anti-tax efforts on the notion that wealth is derived from the superior efforts of “job creators.” This frame fuels an anti-government and anti-tax narrative that the authors say is counter-productive to the kinds of investments we need to make to get our nation’s economy back on track.

“Members of Responsible Wealth, including some of the business owners profiled in our book, understand that there’s a lot more working in their favor than smarts, creativity or hard work,” says Mike Lapham. “They believe they owe a chunk of their good fortune to government investments in education, research, infrastructure and a regulatory system that have created a fertile business environment.”

The co-authors of The Self-Made Myth add that social relations can also provide an economic boost. “We hear these icons of business success, Donald Trump, Ross Perot, and the Koch brothers, for example, tout themselves as ‘self-made,’” said Miller. “But their failure to acknowledge the role of luck, privilege, and even government is misleading and dishonest.”

The Self-Made Myth book tour launched last week, fittingly at a public institution of learning, the Boston Public Library. The tour will continue around the country, with stops in New York City, Portland (Oregon), and Seattle.

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11 Ways the Federal Government Contributed to the Racial Wealth Divide

Black History Month may have come to an end, but the fight against racial injustice is hardly over. In order to close the racial economic divide, we must first take an honest look at the policies and practices that created and perpetuate racial disparities.

Here are 11 ways federal government giveaways gave an economic headstart to white people while excluding people of color.

1. Free land
White Revolutionary War veterans were given nine million acres of Indian land.

2. Legalized squatting
In 1841, the U.S. government legalized squatting, allowing white settlers to take over Native American land.

3. Military-enforced squatting
The U.S. Government helped enforce squatting by employing the U.S. Army out west to beat back Native Americans from land coveted by white settlers.

4. More free land
In addition to conquering half of Mexico, the U.S. Government reclaimed Latino landowners’ land for minor infractions such as missing paperwork or back taxes, and then sold it to Anglo settlers at a minor cost.

5. Even more free land
The Homestead Act of 1862 provided free or very inexpensive land was provided by the government to 1.5 million white families.

6. Revoked promises to slaves
Following the Civil War, freed slaves were promised ‘40 acres and a mule.’ Following Lincoln's death, this promise was revoked and land was returned to its previous White owners.

7. Preferential treatment of white workers
Through the New Deal, the U.S. Government provided minimum wages, union rights, and social security to industrial workers, almost all of whom were white. These same benefits, however, were denied to agricultural and domestic workers, most of whom were people of color.

8. Government-sponsored aid
Government-sponsored aid was provided to struggling white farmers while denying it to most black farmers from the 1930’s right through the 1980s.

9. GI Bill benefits
Provided free college education, vocational training, and cheap mortgages to nearly two million white WWII vets via the GI Bill, while simultaneously blocking most veterans of color from accessing the same benefits.

10. Neighborhood investment through homeownership
Invested in infrastructure to expand suburban neighborhoods where white households were able to access government-subsidized mortgages while urban, inner-city neighborhoods were red-lined.

11. Tax breaks
Tax breaks on investment income (such as dividends, capital gains and inheritances), which are disproportionately owned by wealthy white people, have been cut and lowered much more than taxes on income from work.

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FREE WEBINAR: Reclaiming the Pro-Business Narrative

How can tax fairness advocates and businesses effectively bond together to reclaim the myth that progressive taxation is anti-business? This free Tax Fairness Tune-Up webinar will provide insights and practical tips for grassroots organizers and business leaders alike. Register today!

RECLAIMING THE PRO-BUSINESS NARRATIVE: Connecting Grassroots & Businesses Leaders for Progressive Tax Reform

Thursday, March 15 from 2:00-3:00pm EST

Register now!

Free and open to tax fairness advocates and allies.

This webinar will explore how to effectively integrate businesses into progressive tax campaigns. Presenters will explore commonly-held myths surrounding personal and business success and how tax fairness organizers can effectively reclaim this narrative by working in conjuction with business leaders.

This webinar is appropriate for tax fairness organizers looking to engage business leaders in progressive tax campaigns and business leaders who wish to partner in statewide coalitions for progressive tax reform.
 
Presented by:
Brian Miller, Executive Director of United for a Fair Economy and co-author of The Self-Made Myth: and The Truth about How Government Helps Businesses and Individual Succeed
Scott Klinger, Tax Policy Director from The American Small Business Coalition
Bob FulkersonExecutive Director of Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) and member of the Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative

Register now!

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BOOK TOUR: Sign Up for a Book Event Near You

Watch this video to see what people are saying!

The Self-Made Myth co-authors, Brian Miller and Mike Lapham, will be on tour in 2012 discussing the book as it relates to the national dialogue about inequality, taxes, the role of government, and other public policy questions before us. Some of the remarkable individuals profiled in the book will join Mike and Brian in select cities.

See details about book tour events and register below. Tour dates are still being scheduled, so join our mailing list in the right sidebar to stay in the loop as new tour cities are announced!

Date     Time     City     Venue
March 7, 2012     6:00 p.m.     Boston, MA     Boston Public Library (Register)
March 29, 2012     7:00 p.m.     New York, NY     New York Society for Ethical Culture (Register)
April 18, 2012     7:00 p.m.     Portland, OR     First Unitarian Church / Eliot Center (Register)
May 9, 2012     7:30 p.m.     Seattle, WA     Town Hall Seattle (Register)
May 23, 2012     7:00 p.m.     San Francisco, CA     The Bay Area Hub SoMa (Register)
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Uprooting Inequality and Its Ideological Underpinnings

By Brian Miller
Common Dreams, Wednesday, February 22, 2012. Click here for original article.

In the past few months, we’ve heard more than ever about economic inequality. This increased awareness is a breath of fresh air, but it’s not enough by itself. We can’t just point out the existence of inequality. We must uproot the ideological underpinnings that support it. No matter how unequal wealth and income are, if people can rationalize it in their minds as the result of some working harder or being more virtuous than others, then our efforts to rein in inequality will fall flat.

Yes, CEO salaries continue to soar while the rest of America futilely spins its tires in an economic ditch. Yes, our nation is facing a new Gilded Age where the top one percent holds as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent combined. But for those hard-liners on the other side – and a significant chunk of swing voters in the middle – the retort is, “So what!? If they earned it, they should be able to keep it!”

But did they, as individuals, really earn it? That’s a key question we explore in our forthcoming book, The Self-Made Myth, which offers a more honest story of financial success in the US. We explore how those who have achieved such success did so not just because of hard work, but also with the help of luck, privilege, and the shared investments we all paid for in our nation’s transportation systems, schools and universities, publicly-funded research, courts, and more.

Elizabeth Warren brought this theme closer to the spotlight last year when she said, “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own… You built a factory out there — good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for… You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless! Keep a Big Hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.” President Obama gave credence to this very idea in numerous instances throughout his recent State of the Union address.

In writing The Self-Made Myth, we interviewed a refreshing breed of business leaders who readily acknowledge the role that government plays in making their business success possible. Kim Jordan, CEO of New Belgium Brewing, speaks of the roads that carry their Fat Tire beer around the nation. Glenn Lloyd of City Fresh Foods and Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream speak of the confidence provided by food safety regulations. Thelma Kid, co-founder of David-Kidd Booksellers in Tennessee, speaks of the SBA loan she got as a woman entrepreneur breaking through the glass ceiling.

They worked hard, no doubt, and were often lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. But their success was magnified many times over through the work of their employees, and by leveraging the vast infrastructure created through our tax dollars. In acknowledging the role that government plays in making their business success possible, these entrepreneurs make a strong case for why they should pay more in taxes. It’s not about “punishing success.” It’s about a responsibility to pay it forward.

If we are to translate the newfound awareness of extreme inequality into lasting social change, we have to go after the rationalizing arguments that have permeated our public dialogues. President Obama had it right when he closed the State of the Union with the words, “No one built this country on their own. This nation is great because we built it together. This nation is great because we worked as a team. This nation is great because we get each other's backs.” As many have said, and as Obama echoed in his speech, “we are all in this together.” That has to include those at the very top.

 

Brian Miller is executive director of United for a Fair Economy (UFE), a national organization working to rein in extreme inequalities in our economy and promote a more broadly shared prosperity. UFE’s website at http://http://www.faireconomy.org provides an array of workshops, tools, and analysis to support social movements working for change.

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Bustin' the Self-Made Myth

The "self-made man" is as American as a Norman Rockwell image. It is also just as overly romanticized and wholly separated from reality. Indeed, the notion that individual success is entirely autonomous has dangerous policy implications. It's time to do some myth bustin' and put the "self-made myth" to rest, once and for all.

UFE's new book, The Self-Made Myth, challenges the by-your-own-bootstraps myth by offering real stories of business and individual success. It also disproves the claims of several modern-day self-made business heros, including the familiar faces below. These silver-spooners have no qualms about bashing and starving government, even though Uncle Sam was (and continues to be) a key business partner in enabling their success.  

Take a look at the images below, share with your networks, and help us bust the self-made myth once and for all.

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Warren Buffett's Secretary Revealed!

Debbie Bosanek in looks on as President Obama delivers his 2012 State of the Union address.

It's true. Warren Buffett's secretary is a real person. After so many years as a nameless, faceless talking point in support of higher taxes on millionaires and billionaires, the country's most famous secretary has emerged—in momentous fashion at that. 

Debbie Bosanek is her name, and she was revealed to the world during President Obama's third State of the Union address:

Right now, because of loopholes and shelters in the tax code, a quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households. Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. 

Buffett's super-low tax rate became a hot topic in the early 2000s, but it took nearly a decade for that fact to shake its purely rhetorical quality. Obama gave the issue new life last year when he announced his intent to pursue the Buffett Rule, or a tax on millionaires to reduce the growing economic chasm between the top 1% and everybody else. In his SOTU address, he called for a minimum 30% tax rate for millionaires. 

Now, not only does the Buffett Rule have the name and face of, in Bosanek's words, "an average citizen who needs a voice," but it also has numbers to place it's impact in context. Our friends at Citizens for Tax Justice calculate that the Buffett Rule would raise $50 billion this year if implemented and would affect a mere 0.08% of taxpayers.

This week, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) decided to ride the wave. In the wake of the SOTU, Whitehouse is introducing a version of the Buffett Rule for a vote in the Senate with his Paying A Fair Share Act. The bill offers a very straightfoward way to meet the President's 30% rate on millionaires without changing existing income tax rates or the preferential treatment of capital gains and dividends that chiefly benefits the very wealthy. While we'd love to see more holistic reform of the tax code, we applaud the Senator for getting the conversation started.

The bill is certain to meet rabid opposition from Congressional Republicans. But with polls showing overwhelming support for the Buffett Rule, the GOP may struggle to justify continued tax breaks for the people who really don't need them, especially in an election year.

See our related infographic, "How Do We Coddle the Super-Wealthy?"

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PODCAST: "Between the Lines" on State of the Dream 2012

Dedrick Muhammad, Senior Director of the NAACP's Economic Department and co-author of State of the Dream 2012: The Emerging Majority, and WPKN radio's "Between the Lines" host Scott Harris discuss the alarming possibilities for the race and class divides in U.S. if social and economic trends continue for the next several decades. Muhammad shares various strategies to reduce racial disparities and urges listeners to encourage support for those solutions from their lawmakers.

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