Unsurprisingly, in our country a lot of the money belongs to the very wealthy. Accordingly, a number of states are considering changes in tax policy that employ some version of the “wealth tax” long championed by Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
According to The Associated Press, California is considering an annual tax of 1.5 percent on assets of more than $1 billion and 1 percent on assets above $50 million.
Other states are considering similar measures; for the most part, they stand little chance of enactment. But they raise an interesting question: Why are we so reluctant to tax the accumulated wealth of our richest citizens?
To ask the question is to invite insinuations of envy and petty resentment of the hard work, intelligence and good fortune of our most prosperous citizens. But to fail to ask the question is to associate the idea of ultra-wealth with more virtue than it deserves.
The very wealthy in America depend much less on personal virtue than on a stable, secure, ordered society based on the rule of law and blessed with abundant natural resources and sound infrastructure. They depend on Americans of all economic classes to accept and support society’s stability.
When our national stability is threatened by external forces — Nazis, communists, al-Qaida — the wealthy expect that Americans will fight and sacrifice to defend the stability that makes their wealth possible. And Americans have always done so.
The American Dream was never about ultra-prosperity, but wealth has become the American Fever Dream. Wouldn’t our nation sleep better at night if all of us enjoyed as a privilege of our citizenship a basic level of comfort and security, with health care, a few paid days off and a dignified retirement?
Of course, in America we have the opportunity to aspire to more, and many do. But many others willingly take on careers — as nurses, teachers, policemen, firemen, health care workers — that they know will never make them rich, but which contribute more to the well-being of our nation than do many of the ultra-rich.
Then there’s this: We like to call ourselves a “Christian Nation,” even though the Founders would have gagged at this mischaracterization. But we’re good at ignoring the parts of Christian doctrine that make us uncomfortable, such as when Jesus told the haughty rich man to “go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.”
And consider Luke 12:48: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.”
And nowhere have the ultra-wealthy been given more than in America.
So, go ahead and tax the wealthy. And don’t feel guilty about it. They’ll be fine.