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How the 1% Could Set a Good Example

Nov 18, 2011   [permalink]

This isn't meant to be a political post; I'm aiming for a balanced couple ideas here that should appeal to both sides of the spectrum. First is an idea about increased tax collection, then below that about decreasing spending.

First, and with politics aside of whether or not taxes should be raised for anybody: Recently there have been a number of millionaire/billionaire types saying they want their taxes raised. One thing those members of the "1%" who advocate for higher taxes could do to set a good example for the rest (of both the 1% and the 99% whom they're trying to persuade) would be to voluntarily pay additional income taxes themselves.

It's simple to do: They can pay online or mail a check.

If they feel that strongly about it, they could pony up. The 1% are rather maligned recently, so this could help improve their image. (That and toning down the greed so it's subordinate to providing good products & services on reasonable terms, of course; trying to squeeze every penny out of people with absurd fees isn't helping their image. But that's a different rant. :) So, back to them paying more taxes voluntarily to help everyone out.)

Folks in the 1% tend to be highly competitive, so, to make this more effective, there ought to be a public Donors List — then folks could compete to get higher on the list and the media could report on the status of the leaderboard.

Right now this program exists, but is largely unknown, both to those who might donate and to everyone else who could give them props and applause for helping out. So it would need much more of a spotlight than it has now for this to work.

Highly visible folks in the 1% could kick things off once there's a plan in place for how to make it visible. Obama could donate. Warren Buffet could donate. Bill Gates could donate. People could donate anonymously too, of course, but you want big names taking a concrete position.

The money donated probably wouldn't singlehandedly eliminate the deficit, but it would (a) help — in a significant way if a lot of them participated — and (b) symbolically show them putting their money where their mouth is, leading by example for others. Right now a large part of the economic problem is because of lack of confidence. The big boys who earn the top spots by donating vast sums should receive plenty of public appreciation. Brave acts like this, particularly from a lot of respected people, would help restore confidence. "Do as I do" is more powerful than "Do as I say."

The parallel idea, for those who believe spending should be cut rather than taxes raised — which in conservative circles often means cutting social/entitlement programs, not, e.g. defense spending — a parallel highly-public list could be developed where people sign a (binding) public pledge that they will not take assistance from the government in those key areas where they believe spending should be cut. In other words, those who believe social security / medicare /etc. should be cut could lead by example, by agreeing never to accept funds from social security, medicare, etc., for the rest of their life. They would not be exempt from paying taxes into the fund — because doing so has been established by the collective will of everyone, and should thus remain so until the collective will of the people changes — however, their taxes would go down as this pool of "opt-outs" grows to sizable portions. That is, taxes collected to fund these programs would be reduced, since there would be all these fewer people to provide for.

If the purportedly 28% of people who say they support the Tea Party (and its principles of "shrinking government", which, again, more or less equates to eliminating spending on programs from which they might themselves be recipients) — if those 28% were to opt out of ever drawing such funds, there would be approximately 28% less funds needed for those programs. Their goal would be to lead by their example and get others to likewise opt out of accepting funds from the programs they declare are unnecessary.

In both cases, those who exhort others to "Do as I say" would be taking a concrete action as evidence of their convictions, which could help sway others to their position, and they would have the clear conscience and powerful example behind them to say, "Do as I do."

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