At last week's Occupy Wall Street San Francisco protest, demonstrators gathered in the Financial District chanting, "Why is life a bitch? 'Cause we don't tax the rich." And according to Bay Area-founded Patriotic Millionaires, many of the rich agree.
Now a national organization, the Patriotic Millionaires is a group of super wealthy individuals urging the government to increase taxes on those with incomes over $1 million -- the very tax group they represent. Members are largely made up of successful alumni from start-ups like Google, Esprit and Aardvark, and argue that if the 375,000 Americans with incomes over $1 million were taxed more aggressively, the nation could maintain the federally funded programs that helped make them rich in the first place. The group also encourages the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts for the wealthy -- cuts that, the group points out, were never meant to be permanent, and are crippling the economy.
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"I'm a millionaire," said member Dal LaMang, co-managing partner at IceStone, in a video interview posted on the group's website. "My government gave me student loans and I got a great education. Then the small business administration lent money to my company which then made me millions." LaMang argues that without crucial government loans, his success would never have been possible.
Ron Garret, a software engineer turned angel investor agrees. "Millionaires are not the cause of a robust economy," he said in another video interview. "They are the result of a robust economy." Garret argues that cutting crucial social projects and public services will stifle opportunities to create companies like the start-up he helped grow: Google.
Of course, the "Millionaires" are not without their critics. One of the most vocal opponents has been Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. In a letter to the Millionaires, Hatch called the proposed tax increase "a fool's errand," claiming that the money gained would barely scratch the surface of the nation's $14 trillion debt crisis.
However, according to the group's website, allowing the scheduled tax cuts expire as planned would pay down the national debt by $700 billion. And while the figure is no solution, the Millionaires argue that it's certainly a start.
The Millionaires also argue that Hatch is missing the point.
"There are thousands and thousands and thousands of very well off people with very high incomes whose effective tax rate is substantially below the middle class, the lower middle class and lower wage earners," said Dennis Mehiel, Chairman of US Corrugated Inc. "There's a fundamental inequity and it contradicts the progressive nature of our internal revenue code and our tax policies over generations in this country." For Mehiel, the proposed plan is as much about creating a level playing field as it is about alleviating debt.
Check out our slideshow for a few of the Bay Area's Patriotic Millionaires. Then, watch the video from the group's website below:
Espirt founder Susie Tompkins has been called Hilary Clinton's best friend, while her husband, Mark Buell, has remained one of the city's most influential philanthropists.
Watson was a software engineer at Google before moving on to music production for startups like Diggitydope and The Zoo.
Computer scientist, Peter Norvig, is a councilor at the American Association for Artificial Intelligence, and was previously the head of the Computational Sciences Division at NASA.
Silverstein was Google's very first employee, affording him some serious Bay Area cred.
Jernigan is also a member of the Google nursery. (We're sensing a trend here...)
Schneider's resume could be an advertisement for Silicon Valley success including time at companies like Google, Aardvark and Hewlett-Packard.