opinion

COLUMN: Wealth inequality is a disease, but there is a cure



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Chances are, you have experienced a conversation about wealth inequality. The breadth of income disparity today is clearly bad. We must enact policies to even the field, and we need to do it quickly.

A 2016 study showed the top 10 percent took home 51 percent of all new income. That seems unacceptably lopsided. Unfortunately, the same study shows that the top 10 percent owned 78 percent of all wealth. 

These horrifying figures show no sign of reversing in the future either. It is expected that by 2053, the median black family’s wealth will be $0 with Latino families reaching the same number 20 years later. These things will be happening in a world far wealthier than ours is today.

They say you can’t squeeze blood from a stone. The rich have a very different mantra: under-pay foreign workers you’ve tricked to ensure that your hands are never too callous.

Even with this gloomy picture, there are new reasons for hope. The run up to the 2020 Democratic primary is underway, and a few candidates have exciting proposals.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has devised the “Ultra Millionaire Tax." Under her plan, a household worth more than $50 million would be charged a wealth tax of 2 percent. If your household is worth over $1 billion, that rate would be 3 percent. With a total of only 75,000 households affected, the plan expects to raise $2.75 trillion over 10 years.

On the other hand, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., released a bill on estate taxes entitled “For The 99.8 Percent Act." This plan would not only restore the previous estate tax that Republicans recently gutted but expand it. Of course, Republicans are out with their own plan to repeal the estate tax entirely. Who doesn’t love a permanent aristocracy?

Both Warren and Sanders' plans seek to redistribute money from the very richest in order to help the poor and middle class. This is a welcomed initial step.

It is probable that the uber-rich will do all they can to avoid paying higher taxes. To combat this situation, the Warren plan would beef up the Internal Revenue Service. Perhaps this would not be enough to counter their tactics, but just because something is difficult to do does not mean it shouldn’t be done. 

Some people say that the rich already contribute to society by giving back through charity. But major societal priorities and causes the uber-rich are willing to throw money at only occasionally overlap. Charity may be beneficial, but it should never overtake taxes.

In 2017, Deborah and Randall Tobias gave $5 million to the now Hamilton-Lugar School of Global and International Studies. That money is fundamentally different from governmental funding for our language programs.

This is not to say I don’t understand the situation administrators face. When the state legislature refuses to fund proposals, administrators are forced to look elsewhere. However, this comes at a cost, too. While I have no reason to doubt the Tobias’ generosity, there is a history of private donations affecting who gets hired at universities and who doesn’t.

When my school is funded with influence from the world’s wealthiest, is it wrong to think they may have a motivating factor? Yes, it is wrong and entirely conspiratorial. What is not is the fact that most wealth in America needs to be redistributed.

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