What Next

Who Wants to Be a (Heavily Taxed) Millionaire?

America’s 1-percenters weigh their options: higher taxes, or mobs with pitchforks?

A person puts $100 bills in a suit pocket.
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As Democrats try to find an economic message that can win in 2020, a group of like-minded millionaires is making the rounds, telling any politicians who will listen, “We want to pay more in taxes.” Why now?

It’s a question I put to Morris Pearl, chairman of the group Patriotic Millionaires. He joined me on What Next, the new daily news podcast that I host for Slate. Here’s some of what he had to say.

On why he thinks millionaires and billionaires should pay more.

“I’m concerned that gross inequality will be bad for me. I’m concerned that in another decade or two, the people who are doing less well are going to rise up and just say they won’t take it anymore, and we’ll have riots like we did in Athens, Greece. I’m concerned that if we have a few rich people and lots of poor people, it’s not going to end well for the rich people. That’s what I’m concerned about. So I’d like to change public policies to alleviate those concerns.”

On why the government must act instead of relying on high-earners to “do the right thing” or donate to charities.

“We can’t rely on just voluntary action. What we’re supporting isn’t like philanthropy. We’re supporting changing the laws in our country so that those people who make more money have higher tax rates than those people who make less money. We need rules that we all follow.

“It’s easy to raise money if you want to build a new concert hall at Lincoln Center and put somebody’s name on it. But we also need a sewage treatment center up on 143rd Street. We also need somebody to fix the potholes in the streets. We also need pre-K for 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. We also need hospitals. We also need mental health services for people. We also need trains that run better. We also need a lot of things. Not everything can be gotten by getting a billionaire to want to have his name on something.”

On the argument that higher taxes for rich people will just mean more tax evasion.

“Not everyone follows the law. You know some people get drunk and they drive around in their cars. Is that an argument for eliminating laws against drunk driving? No.

[Bonus: This comment didn’t make it into the episode.] “Some people evade their taxes. That’s true. That was true a thousand years ago. That was true 20 years ago. That’s true today and will be true next year, too. But I think most people are fundamentally honest, not everyone, but most people. And I think that we should ask people to pay their fair share. I think we should ask the very richest among us to pay more taxes so that we can have a more even society.”

Listen to the entire conversation with Morris Pearl via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, or via the audio player below.

Podcast production by Mary Wilson, Jayson De Leon, and Anna Martin.

This page was updated after publication to include highlights from the episode.