I have to confess, I’m not the world’s biggest Stephen King fan. I appreciate his contribution to popular literature and know many people who really enjoy his writing but I’ve always been in the take-him-or-leave-him camp. This week, however, he wrote something that really caught my attention: an essay with the straightforward title “Tax Me For F@%&’s Sake.”
Joining the somewhat eclectic ranks of Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Mark Zuckerberg, and Edie Falco, King calls for fairness in the tax code. In his blunt, irreverent style, he makes it clear that Americans paying their fair share to support the nation where they made their millions (or billions) is a patriotic duty. To those on the right who say they’re tired of the very wealthy making this case, he replies
Tough shit for you guys, because I’m not tired of talking about it. I’ve known rich people, and why not, since I’m one of them?
King focuses on three main ideas as he makes his compelling argument, including a nod to the social contract as he skewers anti-fairness advocate and serial liar Mitt Romney.
Mitt Romney has said, in effect, “I’m rich and I don’t apologize for it.” Nobody wants you to, Mitt. What some of us want—those who aren’t blinded by a lot of bullshit persiflage thrown up to mask the idea that rich folks want to keep their damn money—is for you to acknowledge that you couldn’t have made it in America without America. That you were fortunate enough to be born in a country where upward mobility is possible (a subject upon which Barack Obama can speak with the authority of experience), but where the channels making such upward mobility possible are being increasingly clogged.
The idea that “rich folks want to keep their damn money” is another key observation. King readily acknowledges the generous charitable contributions made by the über-wealthy ranging from Steven Spielberg to the Koch brothers. As he sagely observes, however, those contributions are made both at the rate that the donor chooses and to the causes that the donor prefers.
Why don’t we get real about this? Most rich folks paying 28 percent taxes do not give out another 28 percent of their income to charity. Most rich folks like to keep their dough. They don’t strip their bank accounts and investment portfolios…And what they do give away is—like the monies my wife and I donate—totally at their own discretion. That’s the rich-guy philosophy in a nutshell: don’t tell us how to use our money; we’ll tell you. The Koch brothers are right-wing creepazoids, but they’re giving right-wing creepazoids. Here’s an example: 68 million fine American dollars to Deerfield Academy. Which is great for Deerfield Academy. But it won’t do squat for cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Which brings us to the central point of King’s essay. There are things that individuals should do and there are things that governments should do (arguably that government must do). Relying on the largesse of even the most well-meaning millionaires to run a nation is absurd on its face, not to mention bad government. The fact that it is leaders in the Republican party who respond to the Buffett Rule with “Want to give more? Write a check!” demonstrates their venal obsession with making the rich richer and abrogating their obligations as elected officials. Even assuming that just writing a check would magically allow the government to use those funds, such a glib response is antithetical to the very fabric of our nation. As King eloquently observes,
What charitable 1 percenters can’t do is assume responsibility—America’s national responsibilities: the care of its sick and its poor, the education of its young, the repair of its failing infrastructure, the repayment of its staggering war debts. Charity from the rich can’t fix global warming or lower the price of gasoline by one single red penny. That kind of salvation does not come from Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Ballmer saying, “OK, I’ll write a $2 million bonus check to the IRS.” That annoying responsibility stuff comes from three words that are anathema to the Tea Partiers: United American citizenry.
Bravo, Mr. King! The full essay at The Daily Beast is required reading. King uses his own experiences as a small businessman, donor, and millionaire to fully dissect the issues of responsibility and participatory government. Now if we could just scare the GOP into listening.