The spreading coronavirus is laying bare the fundamental flaws with our country’s reliance on philanthropic giving. Decades of cutting taxes on the wealthy and shrinking the social safety net have left the United States less prepared to handle a global pandemic than virtually any other developed country in the world. Rich people’s philanthropy might be nice for the people receiving it, but when that philanthropy is used as an excuse to cut taxes on the wealthy, it may end up doing more harm than good. I’d rather feed three people through taxpayer-funded federal food assistance programs than feed one person through charity.
The ultra wealthy should fight for systemic change through government action, even if that change might come with tax increases that make them slightly less wealthy at the end of the day. Here are some ideas:
Fight for universal paid sick leave
It is absurd that not all companies in this country are required to offer paid sick leave, especially considering that many of the exempted corporations employ thousands of low-wage workers who cannot afford to skip a day’s wages to stay home sick. If any billionaire wants to make a tangible difference to the physical and economic health of tens of thousands of American workers, lobbying for truly universal paid sick leave is the place to start.
Demand the government directly support employment
It’s hard to deny that lawmakers in America are extraordinarily sensitive to the wishes of the powerful and well-connected, particularly business owners. If a critical mass of billionaires and corporate executives started demanding a program like this, there’s a good chance Congress would feel pressure to act. It’d be expensive, yes, but by expressing a willingness to have their own taxes raised to pay for it, the billionaire class could both assuage the fears of deficit hawks and strike a blow against economic inequality all at once.
These are ambitious policy goals, but a critical mass of people with political power fighting for these policies is just what the nation needs right now. It’s time for the billionaires in this country to stop using their positions of influence and wealth to shape the rules of the economy in their favor, and start using their positions to fight to keep our economy afloat.
Billionaires shouldn’t hide in their bunkers, make donations and wait in comfort for the world to end. They should get up and do something about it, and we’ll all be better off.