Wealth Tax Necessary for COVID-19 Relief

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artwork by Zinnia Wery

Elaina Martin, Opinions Editor

  It’s arguable that some of COVID-19’s greatest effects on the country haven’t been related to human health, but the economy. The outbreak and resulting shelter-in-place orders have undeniably sent the nation into a quick economic downturn that it will likely take years to recover from; according to the New York Times,  the economy is in freefall, jobless claims are reaching numbers not seen since the Great Depression, and stocks are at an unprecedented low. Predictions for May 2020 are unsettling at best — a business review speculated that half of Americans will be out of a wage by that time (businessinsider.com).

   Meanwhile, “…the three richest Americans — Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates — now own more wealth than the bottom half of the country [combined]” (nytimes.com). In fact, Bezos’ net worth has skyrocketed by over twenty billion because of all the panic-buying related Amazon orders (businessinsider.com). While these three men are contributing to relief, it’s simply not enough, considering each of their tens of billions. It’s disheartening and quite frankly disgusting that the three most well-off people in the country (not to mention the top five percent) can’t do more to help people that are in so much need right now.

   Ultra-rich aside, the income divide in America has never been more obvious than now. Celebrities hide away in their gorgeous mansions and get top privileges in the way of medical attention, while commonfolk risk their lives daily, going to work at the essential jobs that hold up society (washingtonpost.com). It’s highly detestable that the lowest paid Americans are the most valuable to society, yet always the first to experience the fallout of disasters and rich-favoring legislature. They also put a large portion of their income back into the economy, where the ultra-rich of the world barely contribute, largely amassing wealth without spending it. After all, how is it even possible to spend 138.5 billion dollars on oneself? Bernie Sanders articulated it best, saying, “I don’t think billionaires should exist” (nytimes.com).

   Despite sometimes billions of dollars in yearly income, taxes on the rich have always been lax. It’s no secret that the middle class pays the brunt of taxes in America. Furthermore, there are an obscene amount of different ways for the wealthy to prevent taxes on their assets, so much so that it’s often said that it’s voluntary for the wealthy of America to pay. For instance, the Washington Post stated that, “Among the most egregious loopholes is one that allows wealthy people to pass along an asset to an heir who is not required to pay any tax on that asset’s appreciated value… Even when the wealthy do sell assets, they’re taxed at a favorable rate, 23.8 percent versus the top income tax rate of 37 percent” (washingtonpost.com). It’s undeniably unfair that the wealthy are afforded so many tax breaks, when it’s clearly the poor and middle class of America who deserve them.

   It’s evident that the wealthy have received an inequitable amount of tax-related favoritism by the American government. Thus, it’s time for them to step up and do the right thing in this time of crisis, which would be to give away a portion of their income in order to save the less fortunate from having to choose between paying for rent and feeding their families, which is a reality for many more people as the crisis continues to wreck normal life. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin has instituted a tax on rich Russians and is spending it on the people that need the money, as stated by a news outlet; Putin said, “All the additional money coming into the budget from these two measures, I recommend spending in a targeted way to support families with children, to help people who have lost their jobs or are sick” (rferl.org).

   Unfortunately, an American wealth tax has always been a politically contentious subject, often with politicians and citizens either on one side or the other. For the most part, the ultrarich are largely unwilling to part with even a small portion of their wealth, even if it would be for the greater good. However, a one-time wealth tax’s “…ideological roots lie in a national solidarity that transcends ordinary politics…” and would hopefully be met with concession (nytimes.com). This exception to taxation would enable congress to fund aid packages for people in need without going into even more outstanding debt. “The wealthiest five percent of American families now hold 57 trillion dollars, or two-thirds of all household wealth in the country… A five percent tax on the richest five percent of households could thus raise up to two trillion dollars” (nytimes.com). Junior Mikaela Norum said, “A wealth tax would be beneficial now because the top five percent of people have money to spare.” A wealth tax has the ability to level some of the financial inequality that has surfaced during this time, while providing security to those in need of money.

   Global crisis aside, the gross accumulation of personal wealth into the billions represents only greed and narcissism. The wealthy don’t hoard away billions for the good of mankind — they continue to build their personal fortunes to serve themselves alone, in a horrific display of ostentation. Especially with a pandemic like COVID-19 underfoot, it’s never been more true than now that the ultra-wealthy people of the world owe it to society to share their security with others in this time of hardship.