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.
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Today, with calls for austerity ringing out on both sides of the Atlantic, it's not clear that history will offer much of a road map for tax battles waged in the new and globalized economic crisis. Keynes is gone. In America and across the eurozone, governments are abandoning economic stimulus and trying instead to scrimp their way to prosperity. That includes calls for higher taxes on the rich, some of which are being adopted and some not.Skip to next paragraph
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In France, for instance, President Nicolas Sarkozy is backing a 3 percent tax on the country's wealthiest individuals. Yet the Italian government recently dropped its plans for a special levy on the rich. One of the main arguments of Greeks rioting in the streets of Athens is the government's failure to demand more of the wealthy. The British are still debating a boost in the top marginal tax rate, to 50 percent, adopted last year.
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During their weeks encamped in lower Manhattan, the Occupy Wall Street protesters described themselves as heirs of the Arab Spring. Historians are likely to tie their rally – thematically, at least – to the narrative of economic unrest playing out across Europe.
Though the violent clashes in places like Berlin and London made the goings-on in lower Manhattan look like one big group hug, at least one New Yorker was spooked by the potential for transcontinental resonance.
"You have a lot of kids graduating college, can't find jobs," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said during his weekly radio address the day before the Wall Street protests began. "That's what happened in Cairo. That's what happened in Madrid," he added. "You don't want those kinds of riots here."
Americans don't often riot, and that behavioral pattern seems unlikely to change anytime soon. But their frustration is palpable. Occupy Wall Street and spinoff protests from Los Angeles to Boston attracted thousands of young people who believe their financial prospects have been mortgaged to bail out the nation's elite. They want the future back.
On Sept. 26, the Wall Street protesters staged a march on the financial district's "Luxury Night Out," an event promoting high-end merchants, including a local BMW dealership, a chocolatier, and a steakhouse.
"Couples wore outfits that cost more than we will ever make in a month and looked at cars that cost more than we will ever make in a year," the protest's organizers later reflected on their website.
By the start of this month, rallies fueled by similar sentiments had spread to more than half a dozen American cities. Not surprisingly, the demonstrations have drawn fire from the other side of the tax debate, including from GOP presidential candidates. During an Oct. 5 campaign stop in Florida, retirees asked Republican hopeful Mitt Romney what he thought of the whole thing. "I think it's dangerous," he said, "this class warfare."
IN PICTURES: Wall Street protests