- My name is (your name) and I’m a constituent from (your city). I’m calling to support a strong estate tax. I’d like the Senator to push for higher estate tax rates for multi-millionaires and billionaires, and vote against unlimited deductions for farms.
- I also urge the Senator to extend tax cuts for middle class families ONLY.
Instead of more tax breaks for the wealthy, Congress should use that
money to put Americans back to work, invest in our kids and pay down our
- Where does the Senator stand on the estate tax and the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy?
As the tax policy debates come to a head in Congress, many folks want to know how the proposed changes will boil down to their bank accounts. A new tool created by the Tax Policy Center takes the debate out of abstraction and brings it into reality, allowing you to see how the numbers would play out for your household.
Simply enter your information by family status (single, married, over 65, etc.) and your household income. You can use your actual information or borrow a pre-created hypothetical household situation. Either way, the calculator outlines what different families would pay if the current Bush-era tax cuts are all extended, extended only for families earning over $250,000, or all allowed to expire.
This will arm you with the information you need to jump in the ring and join the debate on tax policy. Look out, world!
Image by Phillip on Flickr.
But, while we're on the enthusiasm gap, let's sidebar. The American political system hasn't given us much to be enthusiastic about in recent years. While voting and other forms of democratic participation are critical to the future of our economy, we should also be considering what it's going to take to build a more engaged electorate. One answer is organizing. But, to build a base that's in it for the long haul, we'll need more education.
Noah wrote about the gap between what Americans think versus the reality of wealth inequality in the US. He recounts a time when the top 1% of American earners were taking home 18% of the nation's total income. That was in the early 20th century, and an insurrection of the working class seemed near. That figure has risen by 33% in the past eight decades, with the top 1% accounting for nearly a quarter of all US income, and we've not yet witnessed an uprising. On the contrary, many of us seem to be sleepwalking.
Noah cites a survey in which participants were asked to share their best guesses about wealth distribution across quintiles (fifths of the population) in the US. When surveyed about the holdings of the wealthiest quintile, participants on average undershot their estimates by 31 percent. (The top quintile accounts for 84% of all wealth in the US.)
U.S. Wealth Distribution: Actual vs. Estimated vs. Ideal
Source: Michael Norton and Dan Ariely, "Building A Better America–One Wealth Quintile At A Time" (pdf)
The outcomes of this study may offer a glimpse into why we've not yet seen that uprising: we're not fully aware of the severity of inequality in the US.
There is a silver lining here though – one that gives us hope for what could be. When asked to select an ideal wealth distribution among three options, 90% of respondents chose more equitable distributions (see below) than we have in the US today.
Wealth Distribution Preferences: US vs. Sweden vs. Equal
Source: Michael Norton and Dan Ariely, "Building A Better America–One Wealth Quintile At A Time" (pdf)
One part of UFE's mission is to raise awareness of the dangers of concentrated wealth and power. These findings suggest that we've got our work cut out for us, because, evidently, too many Americans are still in the dark about how truly unequal our country has become. But, as more light is cast on the truths behind inequality, our movement for justice will grow stronger.
If you'd like to help counter this pandemic of unawareness, check out UFE's workshop, "The Growing Divide: The Roots of Economic Insecurity," or our book, Teaching Economics As If People Mattered, and consider hosting an educational event for folks in your neighborhood.
If you work with a community-based organization and would be interested in attending or co-hosting a future UFE Training of Trainers Institute (ToT), send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org mentioning "ToT inquiry" in the subject line.
Also, join our mailing list, tell your friends, family and colleagues to do the same, and we'll keep you up-to-date with the latest news on economic justice.
Photo above by PhotoJohnny on Flickr.
What do coal mining and tax cuts for the wealthy have in common? Both are economic injustices that favor the wealthy, burden low-income people, and add to the imbalance of our economy.
Last week, nearly 2,000 protesters traveled from Appalachia to Washington, D.C. to demand an end to the mountaintop removal, including Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), a member of UFE’s Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative.
For years, state and federal policies have allowed wealthy coal companies to use explosives to remove the tops of mountains to extract coal. In Appalachia, wealthy coal companies are literally moving mountains to access the precious resources beneath them, leaving life-long residents of the surrounding communities with barren fields and dried up streams.
In response to these unjust practices, citizens of the Appalachian region descended upon Washington, D.C. to demand an end to the harmful mountaintop removal practices that are irreversibly destructing their natural resources. Although the protest was peaceful -- a celebration of Appalachian culture and natural resources -- over 100 protesters were arrested in front of the White House for civil disobedience.
Mountaintop removal is an all-too-common example of how, when a low-income community and a wealthy corporation go head-to-head, the corporation with the biggest bank account wins almost every time. Just as our tax policies have been designed to favor the wealthy, our environmental policies are too often crafted with little concern for the well being of low-income communities.
Does this sound eerily familiar to the slash-and-burn approach of our big banks?
Our economic and environmental issues cannot be dealt with in a vacuum. Creating a fair economy means taking a holistic approach to designing policies that allow all people to flourish, despite the size of their bank account. This means being able to make ends meet and trusting that the natural beauty of ones’ local environment will not be destroyed in the name of short-sighted corporate greed.
Just as mountaintop removal causes devastation to our natural resources, an imbalanced economy means our that our schools suffer, local infrastructures crumble, and the middle class struggles while the wealthy minority sit atop bloated bank accounts. Like the people of Appalachia, we must feel empowered to demand better from our policymakers.
As the battle in Congress over the estate tax heats up, it is critical to make your voice heard. The estate tax doesn’t just impact wealthy billionaires. Policies that favor the rich affect everyone.
That's right -- if you rely on your paycheck each month to make rent, you have a stake in the estate tax.
Over the past decade, we have seen a massive transfer of wealth from hard-working middle class people to the rich. Today, the richest one percent of Americans own a whopping 36 percent of the wealth in this country. That’s more than the combined wealth of the bottom 90 percent of American households.
Our economy is no accident; it’s not like a hurricane or tornado that just occurs naturally. Our economy is the direct result of deliberate policy decisions made in favor of the rich and at the expense of the middle class. And if you think that’s unfair, it’s time to make your voice heard.
So get mad, grab a computer, and start writing! Compose a letter to the editor to tell your neighbors, friends, and community why a strong estate tax is both a common sense solution for addressing our nation’s budget woes and a critical part of a fair and equitable tax system.
Here are a few talking points, phrases, and tips to help you write a zinger of a letter.
First, a few need-to-know points about the estate tax:
affects those who can afford it
In 2009, you only had to pay the estate tax if your individual estate was more than $3.5 million or $7 million for a couple. Only 1 in 500 estates were expected to pay the tax in 2009 (that’s just 5,500 per year). This overwhelmingly does not include family farms and small businesses (only 110 each year in the entire nation would qualify).
encourages charitable donations
Getting rid of the estate tax would devastate our non-profit sector by removing the tax incentive to give. Experts predict that charitable donations would decrease between 23 and 40 percent.
afford NOT to tax millionaires and billionaires
Talk about irresponsible financial management -- permanent repeal of the estate tax would cost over $1 trillion dollars in the first decade, which includes lost revenue and interest payments on our ballooning national debt.
Second, a few phrases to help you drive the point home:
- Millionaires and billionaires should be giving to charity, not getting it.
- We should be making a down payment on our national debt rather than taxing our children to create tax giveaways for the wealthy.
- Politicians who think the rich aren’t rich enough have been spending too much time with lobbyists, bankers, and CEOs – or getting too much campaign money from them.
- More economic demand is what creates jobs, not tax breaks. More tax breaks for dead multi-millionaires do not create jobs.
Finally, a few writing tips:
- KISS your letters (keep it simple, stupid). A concise, clear letter is easier for your readers to comprehend. Crank it out and send it off.
- Refer to something specific that was printed in the paper the past few days. Explain why you agree or disagree with the writer.
- Give your letter a local flavor by including how many estates in your state paid the tax. Find out here (pdf).
- Tell your story; make it personal. How do tax cuts for the wealthy like the estate tax impact your life?
Once you’re done, zip it off to your local paper (you can find the email here) and email it to United for a Fair Economy at email@example.com. And then keep the pressure on. After all, tax policies won’t change themselves.
Image by c. cich on Flickr.
This October, tens of thousands of Americans will gather at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC for a mass expression of solidarity for the progressive social change all of our communities desperately need.
One Nation Working Together is a call for people from all walks of life to march as one – to put our workforce back in good jobs, for quality and affordable education and healthcare, and for equality of opportunity for all.
Now that Glenn Beck's disgusting misappropriation of the anniversary of the March on Washington, led by Martin Luther King, Jr., has come and gone, it's our turn.
We hope you will participate in this inspiring and historic event!
Click here for details and transportation options for the One Nation march.
If you'd like to march alongside other UFE supporters, please contact Kathy Lique at firstname.lastname@example.org for details on where to meet in advance of the march.
- Congress should extend the tax cuts for working and middle class families, and not hold them hostage to tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%.
- Households in the top 5% received almost half of the Bush tax cuts since 2001 – a total of about $980 billion.
- Congress should end the tax cuts for households in the top 2%. If your household income is over $250,000 ($200,000 for an individual), include the fact that your income is in the top 2%.
- Returning the top tax rates to pre-Bush levels (36% and 39.6%) for just the top 2% would result in $690 billion in much-needed revenue over the next 10 years ($830 billion counting interest on the debt), and would generate $80 billion in just the next two years alone.
- People in the top 2% are not likely to spend their tax savings, so extending the cuts would not result in significant job growth or benefit to the economy. Again, if you are in the top 2%, please include that fact.
- It is a myth that small businesses would bear the brunt – only 3% of small businesses would be affected at all, and many of those 3% are law firm partners, real estate partners, or hedge fund managers, not really small businesses.
- If you are a small business owner, please state that, as a small business owner, I resent being used as a poster child for a cause that would not benefit me and I do not support.
- Keep it short and sweet; make it personal to your knowledge and experience, crank it out and send it off; send us a copy if you can.
- Most papers have an email address where you can submit your letter.
- Letters should refer to something specific that was printed in that paper in the past few days - there have been many stories in the news recently about President Obama's position on the Bush tax cuts and on Congressional wavering.
Letting the portion of the Bush tax cuts that benefit the top tax brackets expire was a key part of candidate Obama's platform in the 2008 Presidential election. It was one of the key differences between his proposals and the proposals of John McCain.
President Obama has been in office for more than a year and a half, and the time has come for Congress to act on his signature tax proposal. But now, a powerful lobbying campaign is underway to sway the debate and hand out new tax breaks to top earners.
The same leaders that pushed through the Bush tax cuts - with their lopsided benefits for the rich - in the first place are mobilizing the same people to make the same arguments now to keep them in place. They were wrong ten years ago when the first of the Bush tax cuts was passed. Our disastrous economy proves that. And they are wrong now.
They have a powerful lobby and plenty of funding, but we're here organizing to make sure that candidate Obama's pledge is upheld. The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy have been draining our economy for ten years too long already. It's time to end them now.
As year-end approaches, the debate over the expiring Bush tax cuts is getting messy and harder to tolerate. Part of the reason is that there are more than just the usual suspects trying to advance clearly terrible proposals.
Sarabeth Guthberg at 1115.org had me squinting at her blistering critique of claims made by political advisor/economist Mark Zandi. (He had it coming.) As a key advisor to House Speaker Pelosi, Zandi is trying to rally support for permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts benefiting the "middle class," and a one-year-but-not-really extension of the tax breaks for those earning more than $250,000 per year (roughly the top 2%). He says it's necessary because the recovery is still too fragile, and that even the richest Americans "may be sensitive." (And, we wouldn't wanna make anyone cry, right?)
Experts from different sides of the board, including Paul Krugman and Alan Greenspan, have sounded off, saying the Republican proposal to permanently extend all of the Bush tax cuts is a bad idea. The tab for such a move would run up to around $3.7 trillion over 10 years.
Guthberg summed up the costs of 10-year extension of the Bush tax cuts benefiting those being defined as "wealthy," and those defined as "middle-class" by the Obama administration:
"For the first 98% of Americans, extending the tax cuts for 10 years
will cost $3 trillion. By a rough calculation, that’s $2,500 each year
For the next 1.9% of Americans, extending the tax cuts for 10 years
will cost $320 billion. By a rough calculation, that’s $14,000 each
year per taxpayer.
For the last 0.1% of Americans, extending the tax cuts for 10 years will cost $360 billion. By a rough calculation, that’s $300,000 each year per taxpayer."
And, the Washington Post put together a nifty bubble chart to show us what the 10-year per taxpayer costs would look like across income levels.
In spite of the massive price tag on the Obama proposal to extend tax cuts for the first 98% of earners, the overall economic impact would be stimulative, as low- and middle-income people will continue to create demand for goods and services. The $680 billion it would cost to extend the tax cuts for the top 2% would unnecessarily contribute to the GOP's precious deficit and further shift the costs of public services onto said middle class, which would be particularly tough on middle to low-income families.
The passage of President Obama's proposal on the Bush tax cuts would be a small, but positive step. It's not our endgame, but we can still use the momentum of a modest victory to press forward for greater tax fairness.
Looking for a laugh? Watch Stephen Colbert's commentary on the Bush tax cuts.
Chart h/t Washington Post
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|The Word - Ownership Society|
Photo h/t wsws.org
This August, President Obama signed into law a bill that would save more than 300,000 jobs in teaching and public service. Amidst this Great Recession, that seems like a no-brainer, but it turned out to be one of the more controversial bills of the summer. Republican demands that the bill be deficit-neutral led to the shifting of $26 billion (half the House's intended allocation) away from food stamp and green jobs program to fund the initiative.
This resulted in an outpouring of negative media coverage: public employees called “fat cats” and federal aid to states labeled “another sloth-encouraging bailout." One headline even likened this effort to preserve teaching jobs to theft: “Robbing Renewable Energy to Pay Teachers.”
All this haggling was over $26 billion. $26 BILLION! That's, by any standard, a sizable amount. But, compared to the nearly $137 billion Congress has allocated to the largely unpopular Iraq and Afghan wars in this fiscal year, or the $680 billion it could cost to extend the Bush tax cuts for the top 2% of households over the next decade, it's peanuts.
With unemployment at 9.5%, foreclosure afflicting a projected 1 million households this year, almost one in eight Americans receiving food stamps, and still-soaring healthcare costs, one might wonder why our budget isn't sufficient enough to address these issues. Approximately 58% of the 2010 discretionary federal budget is sucked up by defense, and a multitude of other very important programs end up being treated like parking meters – funded with what pocket change remains. It's no news flash that there's plenty of waste that needs to be cut out of the defense budget.
It is absolutely absurd that our elected leadership would buckle to Republican demands for deficit-neutrality in funding public services and clean energy development. Neither the ongoing Iraq and Afghan wars, nor the $2.5 trillion Bush tax cuts of the past decade were paid for up front. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) names both of the above, if continued, as two primary drivers of the coming decade's deficit. A June CBPP report explains:
"Together with the economic downturn, the Bush tax cuts and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq explain virtually the entire deficit over the next ten years.
The deficit for fiscal year 2009 was $1.4 trillion and, at nearly 10 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), was the largest deficit relative to the size of the economy since the end of World War II. If current policies are continued without changes, deficits will likely approach those figures in 2010 and remain near $1 trillion a year for the next decade."
So, when the GOP calls for paygo on public education, safety and health, this is what that translates to: Trillions of dollars for senseless wars and tax breaks for the wealthy? ABSOLUTELY! The well being of the American majority? Come on people, turn your pockets out.
It's high time our federal spending priorities be reassessed, and it's got to start with one simple question: Are we helping those who need help? The way Congress is currently doing things gives the impression that they're not only blind to the escalating strains that the recession is having on people, but also the devastation their big business alliances are wreaking on the planet.