7.12.18 Why billionaires are not your financial angels, or your moral compass

Did you hear the news? Flint, Michigan’s water supply is going to be saved.

Elon Musk said so in a tweet.

So you know everything’s going to be all right. Cue the Bob Marley music.

Now, let’s take a breath and understand why – even if Musk does come through on his internet promise, even if he does throw whatever sums of money are needed at this issue and everyone in Flint can finally have a basic human right of drinkable water from its municipal source – this is a not a good idea at all.

Let’s put aside the Flint issue for a moment. I do want those citizens to have their water, and after all this time (Flint has been in a state of emergency over its drinking water since 2016, but the problem began as far back as 2014) they should have it by any means necessary.

But this is the battle, and in joining it we are losing the war. Hell, we have probably lost the war.

That’s because billionaires should not be the solution. Their philanthropic generosity comes at a price, and that price is the continued eroding of our democratic rule of law. We need to stop looking at billionaires as moral compasses and financial guardian angels and enable our elected officials to do the job that government is set up to do.

And guess what that means? Yes, it means we all have to pay our goddamn taxes.

For decades, there’s been a slow drip, drip, drip about how:

a) government (Democratic government specifically) is wasteful and spendthrift
b) with our money
c) therefore we should all pay as little taxes as possible.

Simultaneously, tax credits and breaks have been handed out willy-nilly to the highest earners in our country, thanks to the fact that they can afford lobbyists and have friends in high places who want to please them. Who want them to open their businesses in their states and cities. Who want them to build another useless sports stadium with their name on it, tax-free – or to be paid to do so. Who do not hire more workers or pay the ones they have a better wage — who instead go and buy their own stock back with those breaks.

The combination of these two things has resulted in Flint, and many other Flint-like problems we now experience around the country. Infrastructure is falling apart, schools are ridiculed as jokes, and the process we have in place to remedy such problems – local, state and federal government, and the taxes they generate – has been corroded down to its core. You cannot get elected by telling people “I need to raise your taxes; we need to fix things.” And in part, I understand that: why should the regular Jane earning minimum wage and barely making rent have to get an increase in taxes when the Elon Musks of the world do not?

(Mind, I have nothing against Musk. From what I can tell he might really be one of the better souls out there, but he’s also a billionaire and a CEO. He’s just a representative to stand for the whole.)

The thing is, it is the height of hypocrisy to act like you are the superhero rushing in to save the day – when you and those like you are the core of the problem. By refusing to pay your taxes, by exploiting loopholes and paying lawmakers to insert further loopholes in legislation, you put the burden on regular folks. Regular folks who have legitimate reasons for needing a break. Your corporation does not need a break. Your corporation is making money hand over fist. Give some of that back – and I don’t mean by swooping in, cape flapping behind you while you turn on your Money Laser Beams. Stop crapping on the system in the first place.

Still, some are going to ask: why should we care where the money comes from?

Because as I mentioned earlier, that money comes at a cost. The price of letting billionaires decide where and when to parcel out their money is the degradation of the social compact, the democracy we live within. The idea here is that all men (and women) are created equal. That means we all owe our share. And by owing our own share, we invest in the country, the whole, the system. We feel a shared, communal pride in the thing we have built as a group – not a grubby “this is what I did!” egoistic claim on one small corner. That’s what a 5-year-old needs.

Is the system sometimes wasteful? Sure. It can’t always be helped. But are corporations never wasteful? Hell, no. But when a corporation is wasteful, they get to call it a write-off. And when a corporation donates money, you know what it’s called?

A tax write-off. It’s charity! Charitable donations are tax-deductible!

Stop making the United States of America your damn charity. Pay what you owe. Demand that the one-percenters do the same. Demand that they stop trying to cheat the system.

Tell them to pay their damn taxes.

And elect politicians who will make them.


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