To Move Forward, We Must Learn from Our Progressive Past
To Move Forward, We Must Learn from Our Progressive Past
By Sam Pizzigati / otherwords.org

Yesterday's ideas about curbing the ultra-rich's power remain just as relevant as ever.

Our contemporary billionaires, most Americans would agree, are exploiting our labor and polluting our politics. Can we shrink our super rich down to a less powerful — and more democratic — size? Of course we can. We Americans, after all, have already done that before.

Between 1900 and the 1950s, average Americans beat down plutocrats every bit as dominant as ours. A century that began with huge private fortunes and most Americans living in poverty would come to see sweeping suburban developments where grand estates and mansions once stood. 

Most of us today, unfortunately, have no inkling that this huge transformation even took place, mainly because that exuberantly middle class America of the mid-20th century has disappeared. Those grand mansions have come back.

Does this super-rich resurgence make failures out of our progressive forebears, the men and women who fought to limit the wealth and power of America's wealthiest? Our forebears didn't fail, as I explain in my new book. They just didn't go far enough.

In The Rich Don't Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, I sum up the incredible feats those progressives accomplished. They "soaked the rich" at tax time. They built a union movement that acted as a real check on corporate greed. They even tamed Wall Street.

But these great victories have long since faded. How can we get back on a plutocracy-busting track? We could start by revisiting those struggles of years past that came up short, those proposals that, had they become law, might have lastingly leveled down our super rich.

The Rich Don't Always Win explores many of these proposals. Here are three.

One: Require the rich to annually disclose how much they actually pay in taxes.

Eighty years ago, just like today, America's rich evaded taxes massively. If wealthy taxpayers knew their returns would be open to public inspection, reformers argued, they might think twice about this evasion.

In 1934, progressives actually added a disclosure requirement to the tax code. But Congress, after a swift super-rich counterattack, repealed it. Even so, the basic idea behind disclosure remains as powerful as ever. Just ask Mitt Romney.

Two: Leverage the power of the public purse against excessive CEO pay. Congress can't directly set limits on corporate compensation, and yesterday's progressives understood that. But Congress could impose limits indirectly by denying federal government contracts to firms that overpay their top executives.

In 1933, then-senator and later Supreme Court justice Hugo Black won congressional approval for legislation that denied federal airmail contracts to companies that paid their execs over $17,500, about $300,000 today.

The New Deal never fully embraced Black's perspective. We could now, by denying federal contracts to any companies that pay their CEOs over 25 times what their workers are making.

Three: Cap income at America's economic summit. In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt proposed a 100 percent tax on individual income over $25,000. That would amount to $355,000 in today's dollars.

Congress balked. But lawmakers did set the top tax rate at 94 percent on income over $200,000, and top federal rates hovered around 90 percent for the next two decades, years of unprecedented middle class prosperity.

America's rich fought relentlessly to curb those rates. They saw no other way to hang on to more of their income. But what if we restructured the top tax rate of America's postwar years to give the rich a new incentive?

We could, for instance, tie the threshold for a new 90 percent top tax bracket to our nation's minimum wage. The higher the minimum wage, the higher the threshold, the lighter the total tax bite on the nation's highest incomes.

Our nation's wealthiest, under this approach, would suddenly have a vested interest in enhancing the well-being of our poorest. Years ago, progressives yearned to create an America that encouraged just that sort of social solidarity. They couldn't finish the job. We still can.

OtherWords columnist Sam Pizzigati is an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow. His latest book is The Rich Don't Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class. OtherWords.org

The Rich Don't Always Win, by Sam Pizzigati

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

0.0 ·
0
What's Next
Trending Today
10 Provocative Quotes from Ivan Illich's "Deschooling Society"
Daniel Lattier · 18,303 views today · Ivan Illich’s groundbreaking book Deschooling Society (1971) offers a radical critique of the institutionalization of education within modern societies. Illich believed that we...
This Text Message Exchange Between a Mother and Daughter is Pure Gold
Belinda Hankins · 7,039 views today · When Belinda Hankins got a text message from her 13-year-old daughter, who was shopping for period products, it started an exchange that will resonate with women everywhere. Enjoy.
Welcome to Marinaleda: The Spanish Anti-Capitalist Town With Equal Wage Full Employment and $19 Housing
Jade Small · 4,668 views today · With virtually no police, crime or unemployment, meet the Spanish town described as a democratic, socialist utopia. Unemployment is non-existent in Marinaleda, an Andalusian...
11 Traits of People With High Emotional Intelligence
Raven Fon · 4,545 views today · Lately, new ways to describe human interactions, social behaviours, and many facets of psychology have emerged on the social network scene. One of those descriptions is “high...
Superblocks: How Barcelona Is Taking City Streets Back From Cars
5 min · 4,287 views today · Modern cities are designed for cars. But the city of Barcelona is testing out an urban design trick that can give cities back to pedestrians.
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 4,118 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 3,575 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
Throw (2016)
10 min · 2,661 views today · The first installment of Invisible Thread, an ongoing ELM passion project series, Throw tells the story of an outsider from East Baltimore, an area challenged by gang violence...
Who Are You? Watching This Breathtaking Video Could Be the Moment You Change Your Life
2 min · 2,658 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
Real Change in Democracy Comes Not in the Voting Booth but Activism at the Grass-Roots
Ilze Peterson · 1,760 views today · Many years ago, the late Judy Guay, a low-income woman from Bangor, founded the Maine Association of Interdependent Neighborhoods in order to advocate for the neediest in our...
Fighting Trump - Residents Opposing Donald Trump's Scottish Golf Resort
14 min · 1,743 views today · Documentary on the residents protesting against Donald Trump's golf development on the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Directed and Presented by James Trosh.
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,653 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
93 Documentaries to Expand Your Consciousness
Films For Action · 1,630 views today · There are over 800 documentaries now cataloged in our library of social change films. That's probably way too many for any mortal to ever watch in a lifetime, let alone a few...
What You Might Notice If You Forgot Your Phone For a Day
2 min · 1,556 views today · There is a moment happening right in front of you, right this second, and you just might be missing it
Doctors Response to Daily Mail Bigotry is Beautiful
Neil Tiwari · 1,422 views today · A poetic open letter to the Daily Mail newspaper from Dr. Neil Tiwari, in response to a bigoted attack on his colleagues, is going viral and it's beautiful.
Ikigai - Finding Your Reason for Being
Chip Richards · 1,362 views today · What Gets You Out of Bed in the Morning? When asked what is the single most powerful contributing factor to one’s health and vitality, integrative medical...
Forest Man
16 min · 1,195 views today · Since the 1970's Majuli islander Jadav Payeng has been planting trees in order to save his island. To date he has single handedly planted a forest larger than Central Park NYC...
How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently
Maria Popova · 1,033 views today · “Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”
Maya Angelou's 3-Word Secret to Living Your Best Life
3 min · 959 views today · Dr. Maya Angelou says that in order to be the best human being you can be, you must follow one simple directive: "Just do right." Watch as Dr. Angelou reveals how you can never...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 833 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
To Move Forward, We Must Learn from Our Progressive Past