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Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson

Posted: October 11, 2010 01:42 AM

America used to have a top tax rate of around 90%. This meant that after a person earned a lot of money in a year, additional income beyond that amount was taxed at the higher rate. Back then government worked a lot better. We didn't have deficits, the schools and public universities were better, there were enough police and firefighters, the courts were not overwhelmed, even the IRS was better. Most important, our country's infrastructure -- the soil in which business thrives -- was kept in good shape so the country was more competitive and livable. And all of this meant that the very people who were paying those top rates benefited because their businesses did better.

Government and the services it provides aren't all that has changed for the worse since we cut tax rates for the very, very rich. It caused the relationship between big businesses and the rest of us to deteriorate, too. Here is why.

When top tax rates were high it took time to build up a fortune. So businesses had to depend on the health of the communities around them to help keep them growing over a long period. They had to plan and act long-term. Business people had to carefully build up solid businesses that served their customers and kept them coming back. And they had to train and hold on to employees because their experience was needed.

After the top tax rates were lowered people could reap huge fortunes in a hurry. This changed everything. It created incentives for people to do things that we can now see have harmed our country. Quick-buck schemes for short-term profit became the business model. It made more sense to run up high debt, cut for very high short-term profit or just sell off businesses rather than invest and build build carefully for the long term. Cost-cutting was the name of the game. So cutting R&D and training and quality and support, closing factories and outsourcing jobs made more sense than investing in new equipment and training & retaining a good workforce. Managers who held to the old-fashioned serve-the-customer and support-the-community model faced the private equity buyout -- where companies become buy-and-sell commodities with workers, customers and the country as costs.

So big corporations became predatory, caring little for customers, communities and country because executives planned to get rich quick and leave soon. Businesses' interdependence with the community went out the window. It made more sense to fleece the community with quick-buck schemes than to rely on its well-being over a long period of time. Short-thinking business models that cut employees to the bone and took advantage of customers began to make sense. Then, as communities fell apart, those few who benefited from such business practices could just fly away in their private jets or sail away in their yachts. The greater community was no longer of any use to them except as a crop to be harvested.

Bring Back The 90% Top Tax Rate

So it is time to change the formula. It's time to bring back the 90% top tax rates. We can use the money to start paying off our debt. It is time to rein in our businesses and make them part of our communities again. The way to do this is to continue to help people become wealthy - just a bit more slowly, please, and bring us all along. Bring back the top tax rates of America's golden years so we can all enjoy the benefits of our economy again.

A top rate of 90%, phased in as income gets higher and higher, wouldn't raise taxes at all for most of the people in the country but it would mean that the top 15 hedge fund managers would only take home an average of about $100 million a year. While bringing in only $100 million a year might be a terrible hardship for them, it brings up an important question for the rest of us: how much is enough? Especially when a few having so much means that the rest of us have much, much less and live in communities that are much, much worse off than they used to be.

See also Tax Cuts Are Theft.
And see Tax Cuts Are Theft: An Amplification by Sara Robinson.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.

 

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