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Tax the rich: Should millionaires really pay more?

The fight over raising levies on the wealthy, a theme of the 'Occupy Wall Street' protests, is about more than money. It's a clash over fundamental American values.

By Jessica BruderCorrespondent / October 15, 2011

Protestors affiliated with the "Occupy Wall Street" protests wave signs and banners outside a Park Avenue address in New York City, where Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, lives, during a march on Tuesday, Oct. 11. This story is part of the Oct. 17 weekly edition of The Christian Science Monitor.

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Brennan McFarlane had never been to a protest before. On Sept. 17, the former Navy seaman from Mahwah, N.J., packed his rucksack with sheets and a blanket, unsure if he'd return home that night. Then he rode the train into Manhattan's financial district.

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Activists from around the country were converging on Zuccotti Park for the first day of "Occupy Wall Street," a multiweek rally against greed. They brandished signs: "Democracy not plutocracy," "No war but the class war," and "I can't afford a lobbyist." Hundreds chanted, marched, and danced along Broadway. One woman in a birthday cake costume distributed anti-global warming fliers. A skateboarder in sunglasses and a pin-striped suit with a noose in place of a tie clattered along the park's southern edge.

Mr. McFarlane stood in the midst of it all with a neatly hand-lettered sign: "TAX THE RICH."

"I think taxing the rich and getting the rich out of politics is a central issue," explained McFarlane, who studies history at Montclair State University in Montclair, N.J. "If you fix that, you can fix other problems."

Many protesters felt the same.

"I'm here to get out the message: 'Shared sacrifice' is a polite way of saying 'Pay up!' " said Claudia Ford, an administrative assistant who works at a bank and lives on Manhattan's Upper West Side. "It's not about class warfare. It's about supporting our country."

Ms. Ford wore a pale blue T-shirt that said "Tax the rich: You realize they're not 'creating jobs' with their tax breaks, right?" She hawked buttons and bumper stickers that reiterated her theme for $3 apiece. ("I'm not here to profit," she added. "I'm selling these at cost.")

Passersby were bemused. "It seems like a friendly protest," Daniel Koppers, a businessman visiting from Munich, Germany, said with a shrug. "If this was happening in Germany, something would be burning."

Others, less tolerant and perhaps immune to irony, yelled insults like "Get a job!" Youth unemployment, it should be noted, hit 18 percent this summer.

Americans don't typically take to the streets to talk taxes, but these are strange times. A month before the demonstrations began, The New York Times published a now-famous editorial by billionaire investor Warren Buffett titled "Stop Coddling the Super-Rich," which favored raising taxes on the wealthy.

Not everyone liked it. Even some who agreed with Mr. Buffett thought that his championing the issue was symptomatic of the same inequality he sought to repair. "We don't need a rich person to tell us," McFarlane, the protester and former naval seaman, retorted. "I resent that just by being rich you can get your voice heard in ways other people can't."

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