Millions of us have been saying the tax system is rigged for years now, yet nothing happens. But when one of the dudes holding all the money says the system is rigged, folks in power get nervous.
The guy holding the money here is Morris Pearl, a proud “traitor to his class:” an uber-wealthy millionaire who left a wildly lucrative investment career because, to put it simply, he was making way too much money.
As Pearl tells it in his new book, How to Think Like a Patriotic Millionaire: Taxes, he was having lunch with bank executives at the top of a swanky bank building in Athens, Greece when he looked out the window to see a half-protest, half-riot forming outside. Pearl had a moment of clarity: the power and money concentrated in that room could have changed the lives of everyone gathering in the streets below, with plenty left over. He left investment banking and never looked back, choosing instead to be a full-time advocate for an unusual crusade: pay regular people much more, and start taxing the rich again.
Pearl is part of a group called Patriotic Millionaires, a group of some of the nation’s wealthiest people — including the great-grandson of Oscar Mayer and Walt Disney’s granddaughter Abigail — fed up with the way their fellow rich people are re-writing our laws to screw over everyone who isn’t them. They’re becoming a major thorn in the side of billionaires and lawmakers, because every time Paul Ryan pops up with some line about job creators, the Patriotic Millionaires are there to call bullshit.
Pearl’s book is a rare look at our tax code from the other side of the curtain; he knows exactly where the lies are, because the lies were written for him.
“Stop saying I’m a job creator,” he writes. “I am an investor… Over the past year, do you know how many jobs I’ve created? Zero.” He also busts open the lie about how, if we tax investment income more progressively, no one will invest anymore and the economy will collapse. “I can say with 100% certainty that the tax rate makes no difference whatsoever in my investment strategy,” he says.
He also lays out what separates him and his Patriotic Millionaire friends from “those other millionaires,” and the ultimate motivation behind their work::
The Patriotic Millionaires, like most Americans, know that our citizens should have a tax code that does what it’s supposed to do – pays for what we need and shares those costs fairly…. But it’s clear that not every millionaire wants that kind of tax code. Many of those other millionaires want to live in a country with a tiny number of rich people, millions of poor people and no middle class, and they’ve been spending millions to write the rules of our economy to lead to that result.
But unlike those millionaires, we don’t want to pretend we made our money in Ireland, or get out of paying taxes because we were born rich and never had to work, or take advantage of tax breaks for long term investors because we advise long term investors. And we sure as hell don’t want to pay lower tax rates than the people who work for us.
It’s not because we are nice or good or altruistic, it’s because we think that is the only way to create the kind of country we want to live in. We want to live in a country where hard work is rewarded. Where good businesses thrive. Where people feel safe in their neighborhoods. Where parents can tell their children that they’re going to be okay –– and really believe it. We want to live in a country that has a basic sense of fairness, and where millionaires don’t get special treatment just because they’re rich.
Whether he’s breaking down the brutally unfair principle at the heart of our tax code (it gives an enormous benefit to “people who already have money, and are using that money to make more money, rather than [those] who are using their skills and time to make money”) or explaining how higher taxes would affect him (not much), Pearl is offering something most of us can’t: the perspective of the guy with the long end of the stick. It’s definitely worth a read for those of us holding the short end.
Go here to pick up a copy of How to Think Like a Patriotic Millionaire: Taxes, for Kindle or in paperback.