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Gilmore: If the 1% had less, would the 99% be better off?

Elspeth Gilmore holds an Occupy Wall Street sign.

Kai Ryssdal: I don't know that there's an official count of how long the Occupy protests have been going on, but today's day number 58 of the demonstrations that started in New York City. They've come to a close in Oakland, Calif., at least for now. Police moved in this morning to clear campers out of a plaza in downtown.

The through line of this movement so far, at least the one that's been easiest to understand, is the wealth gap. The "we are the 99 percent, but the 1 percent gets to control everything" story. We decided to turn that question on its head a little bit and ask if the 1 percent had less, would the 99 percent be bettter off?

Here's commentator Elspeth Gilmore.


Elspeth Gilmore: I am the 1 percent. I recently marched on Wall Street with the 99 percent. I stand with the 99 percent, but I marched for myself, too. For decades, the U.S. economy has been organized to boost the wealth of the 1 percent.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, 40 percent of all wealth gains between 1983 and 2009 went to the 1 percent. Eighty-two percent went to the top 5 percent. All the rules of the economy have been tilted in my favor. Yet it is not in my interest to allow the disparities of wealth to keep growing. We should not have to hoard wealth in this society in order to keep our families healthy or to get an education. Health and a good education should be rights.

My job at Resource Generation is to organize wealthy people under 35 who want to change this. There are more than 1,500 of us who know that our lives would be better if we personally had less and we could all rely on a collective safety net. We need to re-imagine what is possible.

I want to live in a world where we together provide the basic needs of all people: adequate infrastructure and roads, well-funded school systems, clean water systems, innovative transportation and health care for all.

We need a more just economy -- and one of the ways to get there is for people like me to pay higher taxes. Lets change the policies that keep the wealth in the hands of a few. Let's increase millionaire taxes and end loopholes for corporations. Please tax the income from my investments at least as much as my earned income, it's common sense.

So let me say this as plainly as I can. Tax me, tax the 1 percent. If the 1 percent had less money, we -- a 100 percent of us -- would be better off.


Ryssdal: Elspeth Gilmore is the co-director of Resource Generation. Tomorrow our series continues with Reihan Salam on the same question: "If the 1 percent had less, would the 99 percent be better off?"

Send us your thoughts.

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Elspeth Gilmore is the co-director of Resource Generation.
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There's nothing wrong with the 1% having a lot of money.

There's nothing wrong with them getting more money.

The problem is they want ALL the money.

If the rest of us lived on a dollar a day, they'd have no problem with that. It's sad that their own personal "worth" is based on their net worth.

How is the 1% supposed to make ALL their money if the 99% are broke? The 1% make most of their money in consumer products; Coca Cola, Gasoline, Wal Mart, Apple, Dell etc, etc. It is in their best interest that the 99% can buy their products.

Although it was not mentioned on air, I could tell immediately that Elsbeth had not earned her money. From looking her up online, I confirmed that her wealth is inherited. Most wealthy folks actually worked for what they have and are taxed heavily already. They are entitlted to keep it, as they earned it. Elsbeth says that healthcare is a "right". I believe that keeping what one owns and works for should also be a right. I echo sentiments that she is more than welcome to donate more taxes to the government. Although it is a drop in the bucket, it makes a statement much stronger than holding a sign at a rally. Has she done this? My guess is that she has not. I am not a member of the 1% (a ridiculous term anyway) but aspire to be one. I don't begrudge those who have achieved wealth and wish these protesters wouldn't either.

I agree with you Robert, WOW indeed! Very succinctly said Elspeth. We can appreciate your ability to speak for the future generations who will indeed earn their fair share, that is, only if the 1% allow them to. Corporations who get tax breaks and promise to boost the economy, job market by supposedly hiring more employees and then turn around and have major layoff's the following year.. yeah, those guys.. should be shaking in their shoes! Fair Share.. that's not too hard to imagine. Thanks Elspeth, your cohorts who are the like-minded 1% and Occupy for paying it forward!

I can understand why someone might feel guilty having what she didn't earn but it's curious Elspeth didn't mention increasing the inheritance tax. I guess it's one thing to accept a smaller chunk of the dividends, but another to give up the security.

Unfortunately, I think the outrage is not about the inequality in itself, but about the theft. The American meritocracy is broken. People with connections and political contributions can enrich themselves at the expense of society to a greater degree now than any time in the postwar period. What we need is to make sure the wealth only goes to those who deserve it by strengthening institutions that promote financial and political transparency. E.g. making the bond markets transparent so investment banks stop making huge profits based on lack of price comparison. It would also be nice to act on evidence the government already has to go after illegal acts by major banks during the housing boom ("liars' loans".)

Redistribution is not the way. Every time you declare a new positive right (as opposed to a negative one such as the freedom of speech,) you are compelling someone to work to pay for that "right." If I may speak for the 99%, I say all we want is no more than what we deserve.

I'm lucky to live in a beautiful middle class neighborhood in a midwestern city where I feel safe taking walks at night, don't have burglar bars on my windows even though I didn't pay much for my house, and people get together to plant daffodil bulbs in the easements next to one of the main through streets in the spring. It was platted and built in the 1910's-20's by people with middle-class jobs ranging from janitor to school teacher to executive, and is still a beautiful and very diverse neighborhood. In large part that's because over the last 30 years a lot of my neighbors saw the wisdom of working their asses off for a common good. Elspeth Gimore's commentary was a beautifully expressed and concise rebuttal to the stunted, adolescent political philosophy that's been dominating our politics for the last 30 years.

Ms. Gilmore, Warren Buffet etc. can simply write a check to the US Treasury. It is easy and does not require the Congress or the President.

Fairness is a relative concept. Is it fair that 50% of people pay zero income tax? Is it fair that dividends are taxed twice - once at the Company level and at the Individual level? Is it right that farmers and others receive hefty subsidies while many are subject to AMT?

Redistributing income is not the way to grow the economy. Reducing incentives and creating an entitlement class is self defeating.

Tax reform is needed. The current tax system distorts the economy and produces many unintended consequences. A lot has been written on this topic but in principle eliminating and removing deductions and taxing consumption will be a positive.

Dividends are interesting example where we could rethink to a better outcome. In Australia - they use a system of dividend imputation. If Companies pay the full tax rate - their dividends are not taxed at the individial level - Companies that do not pay the full tax rate - create taxable dividends. The implications of this policy are clear and very healthy. We need smarter solutions that lead to better outcomes not statist slogans and rhetoric about millionaires and billionaires not paying their "fair share" - whatever that may be.

Bravo! And finally.

About a decade ago when the current economic trends and policies further enriching the already rich at the expense of everybody else became clear, I thought this would soon self-correct as it became clear to the one percent that it really is not in anybody's interest, including theirs, for inequality to burgeon.

But I could not have been more wrong. The blindered and greedy one percent have proven utterly unable to recognize their own long-term self interest, and so the problem has only gotten worse and worse.

So it is a great breath of fresh air to hear from Ms. Gismore, one in that privileged stratum who gets it, who understands that we're all in this together.

Elspeth, please do not be so hasty to give away your windfall. It is not a bad thing. There is some power there and you can spend a lifetime research ways to use it wisely. In country with a $14.7T debt, whatever it is, it is a drop in the bucket.

The US is strong when the foundation is strong. Every one needs to pay their fare share. And while the Utopian ideal of guaranteed minimum standard of living is noble, humans are flawed and it is not so easy to achieve. And once achieved, try to sustain it. The Budda was right, All life is suffering, but without adversity how can we attain greatest ?
I think that the idea of equal access to opportunity is the right idea. We as individuals decide th e outcome. And in th eUS, it is better than almost anywhere else, becuae no matter how many time I fall down, If I have the courage to stand up and dust myself off and try agian, in the US more than almost any where else - you will get your shot. And that is what makes us great.
So I am for the rich paying their fair share. No more, no less. Right now I think they are getting a cushy ride and it is time to ante up. A strong America reduces business risk and that is as good as money in the bank.

We all appreciate your thoughtful and righteous commentary. Thanks. Buy Real estate. Lots of it. Frank Lloyd Wright said buy land, their not making any more of it.

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