WASHINGTON -- Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, millionaires who want the government to tax them more, met with foremost anti-tax guru Grover Norquist in Washington late Wednesday afternoon. Not surprisingly, they couldn't find common ground -- and ended up debating the state of Somalia.
Patriotic Millionaires, a group of 200-plus people making more than $1 million per year (including actress Edie Falco and economist Nouriel Roubini, among others), believe that America has been good to them and that it is their duty to give back. "[The government] provided a foundation through which we could succeed," writes the group on their website. "Now, we want to do our part to keep that foundation strong so that others can succeed as we have."
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Norquist felt the group only represented liberal interests.
"They were there with a heavy partisan message," Norquist told HuffPost Thursday. "The kinds of arguments I got from these old people weren't interesting when I was 12, the left has not advanced. These guys are Democratic Party hacks."
The six millionaires who met with Norquist on Wednesday were part of a larger effort by the group to convince super committee members and other influential lawmakers that the richest Americans deserve a tax hike, arguing specifically that the highest earners should pay 39.6 percent in taxes, up from the current 35 percent.
The conversation with Norquist, however, which comes just over a week before the congressional super committee must come up with its deficit-slashing plan, turned out to be less a policy discussion than a philosophical debate.
Norquist's belief is that the government's prime goal is to promote liberty.
"I think government, up to a certain point, advances human liberty. Police, a judicial system and an army to prevent people from stealing stuff out of your car, out of your house, knocking you on your head or the Canadians coming over and invading the country," he said. "Those are actually mentioned in the Constitution and in the history of our country as legitimate things for our government to do and they make us freer, not less free. I am for limited government that does a limited number of things competently."
Eric Schoenberg, a member of Patriotic Millionaires and an Adjunct Associate Professor at Columbia Business School met with Norquist in his offices Wednesday. He said that Patriotic feel that liberty only fits within a context and that government has a truly fundamental role in ensuring that people have liberty. Part of the way they do that is by investing in things that benefit the public.
In a phone call directly after the meeting, Schoenberg debriefed HuffPost in full:
[Norquist] raised an issue we get all the time which is, 'Well there's nothing stopping you guys from paying higher taxes, just send a check to the government!' And this to me is frankly an absurd position; I don't consider it to be a very serious argument. Government is not a charity and we can't rely on voluntary contributions from people to support the things that government does. And I also said to him, 'Look would you be willing to sign a pledge where you're willing to forgo all the benefits that government provides? Are you willing to sign a pledge that says you don't want the U.S. military to protect you? That you will refuse to contact the police if somebody steals from you? That you will refuse to contact the fire department if your house is on fire? Because that's the equivalent! Why should you get a free ride? Why should you benefit from my willingness to support the government? Let's do it together.' And he said, 'If I don't have to pay any taxes for it, I would forgo all those things!' To which my response was, 'Well there's an easy way to do that, move to Somalia!' And his argument was, 'Somalia doesn't suffer from too little government, it suffers from too much government.' I don't even begin to understand what that means, but again there's only so much you can go into in these conversations.
Regarding Somalia, Norquist said Thursday that the government there doesn't do enough to promote liberty.
"Somalia has competing governments, they're called clans, and they shoot each other," he said. "They have a series of governments that claim complete control over your property and your life. They have a whole bunch of governments, people acting like governments, people with a legal monopoly on force and they compete with each other. Not compete to provide better services, compete to be in charge of pushing you around."
When the Wednesday meeting adjourned, the groups had found but one point of common ground.
"Our final point of agreement," said Schoenberg, "was the United States is less sucky than other places."