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AOC is right: Raise taxes on billionaires! By a lot!


I couldn’t agree more with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s plan to impose a 70% marginal tax rate on the richest Americans. In fact, the rate can go even higher, as far as I’m concerned. In a marvelous moment of serendipity, AOC’s suggestion occurs at exactly the same time the news hit that a hedge fund billionaire, Ken Griffin, just bought “the highest-priced home ever sold in the U.S.,” a Manhattan penthouse, for $238 million.

We’re only a a year out from Trump’s big tax cut,  which clawed $1.5 trillion (with a “t”) back from government coffers—money that could have gone for infrastructure, or housing, or environmental protection–and handed most of it back to individuals like Mr. Griffin, who calls himself “a Reagan Republican” and in 2015 endorsed Marco Rubio for president. Maybe it’s not fair to single Mr. Griffin out for his extravagance, but it is helpful, in political debates, to have poster children, and Mr. Griffin will suffice nicely. His new pad “spans roughly 24,000 square feet,” making it 40 times bigger than my condo. His new building, still under construction on Manhattan’s tony Central Park South, includes “private dining rooms, an athletic club, a juice bar, a library, a basketball court, a golf simulator and a children’s play area.” Nor is it the only home where Mr. Griffin may lay his weary head after a day of taking profits. He also owns “several floors of a Chicago condominium [he bought] for $58.75 million [and] a penthouse in Miami Beach’s Faena House in 2015 for $60 million, setting the record for a Miami condo.” But wait, there’s more. “Since 2012, Mr. Griffin has spent close to $250 million assembling land to build a mansion in Palm Beach, Fla…And earlier this month, he acquired a London home for about $122 million in one of the priciest deals ever done in that city…”.

And there may be more homes we don’t even know about. Does anyone seriously believe that Mr. Griffin needs or deserves all that living space? Does anyone? How many mansions can one family inhabit at any given time? How many art masterpieces does one billionaire need? How can this vulgar consumption conceivably be justified when so many Americans are struggling to get by, especially in the Trump government shutdown?

And yet here’s the Republican Party demanding more tax cuts for Mr. Griffin! Just two days ago, it was reported, Republicans “are now angling for an additional tax cut.” The plutocratic wing of the party, including the Koch Brothers, the American Conservative Union and Grover Norquist, is demanding that Trump radically lower the capital gains tax rate. That would hugely help the richest Americans, who obviously make more profit by selling things like mansions and stocks than do average Americans. As the Los Angeles Times noted, “Capital gains taxpayers already receive huge tax breaks compared with ordinary working stiffs.”

Yet somehow, it’s never enough for the billionaires. They want more and more and more; they resent every nickel they have to share with “ordinary working stiffs.”

So what’s wrong with AOC’s idea? It represents fairness. It would ask the richest Americans to part with just a little of their fabulous wealth: perhaps a smaller penthouse for Mr. Griffin; or maybe he could get by with minor de Koonings and Pollocks, instead of the ones he bought last year for $500 million.

I’ve known billionaires, in some cases quite well, through my former profession in the wine business, where billionaires are quite common. As individuals, most are fine, decent people. They help their employees when they’re in need. They contribute to charity. They provide jobs for “ordinary working stiffs.” These things are to be celebrated.

But billionaires also have far too much money, and at some point, we have to ask why. Why have generations of U.S. Congresses and administrations of both parties allowed this inequality to mount? How have we come to this? The answer seems clear: the billionaires own and control the Congress. They buy presidents, who—at their prompting—nominate judges who will rule that increasing taxes is unconstitutional.

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez sees this. She was born and raised in The Bronx, as was I. The Bronx is pretty poor; from its southwestern shore you can see the towers of Manhattan, just across the Harlem River, including, presumably, the high rise at 220 Central Park South, where Mr. Griffin will be ensconced when construction on this temple of greed is complete. Bronxites like AOC and me know how lopsided things are in this new Gilded Age. We know how hard most of us work and slave to pay our rents and mortgages and put food on the table for our families and feed gas into our aging cars. And then we read about someone like Mr. Griffin—or Mr. Trump—and who can blame us for being resentful? The odd thing, which for the life of me I cannot understand, is why the millions of poor, downtrodden Repubicans who support Trump don’t similarly feel resentment. Their president tells them he’s on their side, and yet he gives Mr. Griffin a massive tax cut and does nothing for “ordinary working stiffs.”

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez gets it. She and Beto O’Rourke are the two most exciting things happening today in American politics. And now, it’s on to 2020!

  1. Your article reflects my strongest feelings about what is needed and the inevitable direction America will take.

    I have said it for long time….tax the hell out of the extremely wealthy.

    At this point, I will vote for Elizabeth Warren in 2020.

  2. Dear Robert King, I hear you! But if Elizabeth Warren doesn’t win the Democratic nomination, I sincerely hope you’ll vote for whomever the nominee is. Please don’t hold a grudge and stay home, or vote for a third party candidate. A lot of people did that in 2016, which is why we have the catastrophe of Donald Trump.

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