With Tax Day having come and gone, many Americans just went through the yearly ritual of seeing how much of their hard-earned income just got churned up in the fiscal disposal that is the federal government. With any luck, most did not have any neighbors insufferable enough to complain that they didn’t have to pay more in taxes. Yet that’s what a group of people humbly calling themselves “Patriotic Millionaires” are doing.
You see, they’re “patriotic” because they want to pay more in taxes. Or, rather, they want other people to pay more in taxes — if they themselves wanted to pay more in taxes, Uncle Sam is happy to take whatever they want to send. “Millionaires Who Want to Make Other People Pay More Taxes” just doesn’t have the same sort of self-congratulatory ring to it.
The irony is that these millionaires’ avowed belief that the federal government can do more with their money than they can is undermined by their own actions. After all, many of these Patriotic Millionaires run private charitable foundations — “selfishly” withholding their resources from the federal government so that they can attempt to accomplish good through private organizations.
For example, one of Patriotic Millionaires’ most prominent members, Disney heiress Abigail Disney, runs the Daphne Foundation, an organization which attempts to address the root causes of poverty in New York City. Just think, had the foundation’s $9.3 million in assets been gifted to the federal government last year, that contribution could have funded it for nearly 45 seconds!
Indeed, there’s a reason that the Giving Pledge, a voluntary effort by wealthy individuals to give up the majority of their fortunes either during their lifetimes or in their wills, focuses on charitable gifts, not gifts to the government. If the Patriotic Millionaires thought that their wealth was best served by fattening Uncle Sam’s coffers, they’d propose a Giving Pledge to the federal government. But no one truly believes that the government is the best destination for extra dollars.
And though the Patriotic Millionaires may not ever voluntarily choose to turn their foundations’ wealth over to the federal government, should the government target the wealthy for tax hikes, they may not have a choice. As the National Taxpayers Union Foundation documented over a year ago, some proposals for a wealth tax have left open the door for taxing private foundation wealth as part of an individual’s net worth, a path which would surely diminish the scope of charitable activity in the country.
Patriotic Millionaires also somehow manage to misunderstand how the tax burden is divvied up in the country as of right now. Contrary to popular belief, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act actually made the tax code more progressive. The most recent tax data tells us that the top 1 percent of income earners pay more than 40% of individual income taxes in the country, despite earning around 21% of all income.
The misplaced sense of selflessness that groups like Patriotic Millionaires get from calling for their fellow Americans to shoulder even more taxes does little but foster more bad policy. Not even the people asking to pay more taxes believe that the federal government can do more with their tax dollars than they can.
Andrew Wilford is a policy analyst with the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to tax policy research and education at all levels of government.