It's an offer way too good to refuse.
During the recent wretched sausage-making on Capitol Hill to raise the debt limit, which rotten product -- all cuts and no revenue, not even loophole-closing -- was rammed through by the Republicans, Congressman Eric Cantor (R.-VA) was contacted by various of his wealthy backers with a tantalizing offer.
It was this: In a rare kind of largesse, refreshing amid all the acrimony, these backers told Cantor that, contrary to Republican dogma, they could support paying higher taxes. But in a nonsensical response (reported by Washington Monthly), the powerful majority leader said that "House Republicans aren't standing up for the wealthy, but rather for the middle class, who want to see their taxes stay low" -- and to this gift horse Cantor said: No, thanks.
Not so fast, Mr. Congressman!
On behalf of that middle class, and the working class too, and assuming this offer was genuine and still stands: We accept, we accept! And assuming there are other conscientious wealthy who are moved to do likewise -- volunteer to pay higher taxes -- we accept in advance. How fervently can we make it known that -- thank you exceedingly -- Main Street accepts?
Imagine it: the Fat Cat Pledge. The gist of it might read: "Having benefited supremely well monetarily from America's public bounty -- public education, public utilities, roads and bridges, clean air and water, etc.; and grateful to a workforce who, likewise enjoying America's public bounty, rendered to me great wealth and station; and all of it defended by the world's largest military -- I voluntarily make this pledge: I will pay higher taxes." Change "will" to "insist" and you will have a grateful nation's love, something the wealthy have not had since the Wall Street-driven crash of '08.
How great is this idea of the Fat Cat Pledge? Let us count the ways, fiscal and symbolic.
First, the fiscal: While naysayers of such a gesture claim it wouldn't make a dent in the national debt, it certainly would if gesture became a movement with a movement's multiplier effect. As a movement, it could bring pressure on the "super committee," charged with drawing up additional recommendations to reduce the debt: Pledge-holders could lobby the Republican members, who no doubt will be fiercely anti-tax, and also press to close tax loopholes. And pledge-holders could push to let the Bush tax cuts expire. Far from negligible, these actions could move the meter considerably on our crushing debt.
And think what it would say to world markets and our faltering credit rating if America's wealthy made such a powerful show of trust in the American enterprise?
Symbolically, the Fat Cat Pledge would pay dividends, too. It would take some of the
odor off the debt ceiling agreement that, to Main Street, now feels extortionate and
unfair. And again, given the ever-increasing income disparity and the fact that the wealthy now pay dramatically lower taxes than in the recent past (see here), such pledge could turn antipathy into, if not love, then appreciation and reduce the threat of class war.
Fiscally effective, symbolically rich, not to mention the right thing to do, the Fat Cat Pledge is a big winner.
Plus, there's this bonanza: Being voluntary, it would require no enabling legislation. No more wretched sausage-making!
So, Fat Cats: Get organized -- now -- as movements take time, the "super committee" gets underway shortly, the Bush tax cuts expire at year's end, etc., etc. Your grand and noble work awaits. This will work, this will work -- if it becomes a movement.
Who will take the lead? There's the aforementioned Cantor backers group. There's the Responsible Wealth Project of United for a Fair Economy, already in existence. There's Jamie Dimon, head of JPMorgan Chase, who publicly took exception to President Obama's reference to Wall Street fat cats: If Mr. Dimon did a turnaround and organized Fat Cats United, he'd show himself a good sport and inject some levity into the heavy atmosphere. There's Warren Buffett, who's long noted he pays taxes at a lower rate than his secretary: Mr. Buffett could press for tax reform. And there's Bono, who did yeoman work in Africa on debt forgiveness: He'd make tax talk cool.
It's long been a mantra of the wealthy to "give back": after amassing one's fortune, to give to the needy via philanthropy. How about giving back now to a needy nation -- via the Fat Cat Pledge?
Carla Seaquist is author of a book of commentary titled "Manufacturing Hope: Post-9/11 Notes on Politics, Culture, Torture, and the American Character." Also a playwright, she is working on a play titled "Prodigal" (www.carlaseaquist.com).