All the Money in the World…

I’ve been away on vacation for the past week plus in Minneapolis and Lake Superior, at Isle Royale National Park and Apostle Islands National Seashore.  I commend this trip to everyone, especially in the summertime.  While away I missed a post I wanted to share, but better late than never.

On June 13, before I left, an article appeared in the back pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer entitled “Seattle Quietly Repeals Amazon-Opposed Tax.”  It seems less than a month after passing a $275 per head annual tax on large corporations, like Amazon and Starbucks, the Seattle City Council was forced to withdraw it due to the furious opposition of local businesses led by Amazon.  The tax was to fund $50 million in affordable housing and homeless services for the 12,000 plus residents who can’t afford a place to live in the booming local housing market.

The business community donated around $280,000 ($25,000 from Amazon) to hire paid collectors to garner 45,000 signatures, more than three times the amount needed, to put a repeal question on November’s municipal ballot.  Fortunately, in PA we don’t trust “the people” with such “democratic” input – and  now I see why!  Rival labor union SEIU, who supported the tax, was able to raise only $70,000 in a vain attempt to keep the measure. City Councilman Mike O’Brien (not the Northeast Philly Democrat!), who sponsored the original legislation, was forced to yield to superior force, along with most of his colleagues.  They were, in the words of the Hamilton musical, “outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, out-planned!” by the big business community.  “With enough money you can put anything on the ballot,” O’Brien sighed.

He said the Council couldn’t afford an expensive, months long, negative campaign before the November election, which might put their precious incumbency in jeopardy.  The 7-2 repeal vote took place in a raucous meeting, without prior announcement, debate or public hearings.  “The city doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending efficiency problem,” Amazon VP Drew Herdener predictably opined.  Of course he offered no alternative cuts or revenue enhancements to make housing the poor “efficient” or even possible.  These human needs obviously paled in priority to a couple of cents off the share price of the world’s largest company.  Shame on both the corporation and council.

San Francisco and other West Coast cities are exploring similar taxes on large tech companies to deal with homelessness, affordable housing, mass transit and crumbling public infrastructure.  After the debacle in Seattle last week, followed by a similar failure to tax Uber in 2014, those cities will think twice before they try to “punish the successful,” no matter how much unjust enrichment sits lodged at the top of the income and wealth ladders.

A week or so earlier the papers reported that Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, had become the world’s richest man, with over $105 billion in personal wealth.  You could look it up, but I believe that exceeds the total GDP of at least half the world’s nations.  He could easily pay the $50 million per year housing tax out of his own personal funds without noticing the difference.  Instead, Amazon (not Bazos personally) spent a measly $25,000 to get the tax repealed, so they could pile up ever more money to heap on executives, shareholders, mergers, acquisitions and other anti-competitive practices.

This naked greed, unhinged from any notion of sanity, sufficiency or the common good, is sickening to behold.  Just as shocking and demoralizing is the paltry price for which our politicians can be bought and silenced.  Less than $300,000 – a drop in the bucket of Amazon’s profits, let alone the entire Seattle business community – was more than enough to scatter them mice at a rattlesnake roundup.  Again, shame on them both, but more on Amazon, which committed the greater sin.

Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters.  Either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6: 24)  The future of our democracy depends on placing the common good over individual selfishness.  Both big business and individual citizens are guilty of neglecting this duty and we are reaping the bitter harvest of growing inequality, declining social mobility and partisan gridlock under the most divisive and least qualified president ever to occupy the Oval Office.

Only a united citizens’ movement to restore democracy (1 person/vote; influence over policy, not just elections) and equality (broad opportunity without gross excess) can save us from our current slide into plutocracy and creeping authoritarianism.  I’m ready to join the band and lead a section, if necessary.  Anyone willing to join me?  By the way, where do we find the band and where to march to?  We are sorely lacking in leadership, character and solidarity.

2 thoughts on “All the Money in the World…”

  1. Here we go again. Tax entities that are successful, they can afford it. Perhaps we should look at taxes a little differently to understand why people oppose this. Here in NJ we have the highest property taxes in the nation. On top of that we have a state income tax. Our gas tax is at or near the top in the nation. Our governor now has anticipated revenue from sports betting and is pushing to legalize marijuana to gather even more tax revenue. These new tax revenue sources will not be used to moderate property taxes or reduce gas taxes. BTW, he also wants to increase the sales tax. Taxes never go down, they never go away. NJ is using these additional revenues to create more social programs. I’m sure each program on it’s own has merit. Nick, when are enough taxes simply enough?

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  2. Dan,
    Thanks for replying – you’re about the only one who ever does. I suppose I will always disappoint you because I will always advocate for higher progressive taxes on the wealthy. The top 1% holds about 40% of the nation’s wealth and the top 10% has over 80%, while the bottom 50% has virtually nothing at all. We are the most unequal developed nation in the world, with the lowest level of social mobility. Time to shake some money from the top of the tree to give 160 million Americans the chance to get ahead.

    Yes, NJ is a high tax, expensive place to live, which is why I dwell in PA. You can take comfort that, despite your recent gas tax hike, it’s still 35 cents a gallon cheaper in South Jersey than Philly. I fill up whenever I go see my daughter. The 1/4 cent sales tax cut was a Christie gimmick to balance the gas tax. No one notices it at the cash register, nor will if it’s restored, but it will help the budget. Maybe sports betting & marijuana will hold the line on tax increases for a time.

    As for the property tax, no one, including Big Chris, seems to have the solution. Perhaps cut teacher pay to West VA or Oklahoma levels and watch them march in the streets. Or head to the Carolinas like Chris Licata & others and live high on the hog with the proceeds of your NJ home sale. Lots of conservatives down there too! Actually, Delaware is a low tax state and not far away, though more liberal.

    Always good talking to you. Would like to drop by for a day with my daughter & visit you & your family if you’re in Cape May. Let me know a good time, if any.

    Nick

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