Monday, February 17, 2020

A wealth tax would punish the American Dream

Despite education spending that exceeds $23,000 per pupil, which is a whopping $10,890 higher than the national average, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) thinks we should spend more. A lot more.

The teachers’ union launched an ad campaign last week called “Broken Promises” that says New York schools are underfunded by $4 billion. And, of course, it’s the fault of rich people. The 30-second commercial spends most of its time highlighting wage inequality, decadence and the accumulation of wealth.

The NYSUT hopes to use that message to compel lawmakers to reap revenues from that accumulation. Taking a page from the playbooks of presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, they are calling for a wealth tax.

This is something entirely different than an income tax, which would still be in play. A wealth tax would focus on the holdings of the others. Whoever would be considered “ultra-wealthy” at that time would have to pay a tax on what they own -- a company, properties, stock, cash, anything designated as an economic asset. It’s a tax upon taxes, as those assets had paid taxes already based on their productive nature in the form of corporate income taxes, personal income taxes paid by the owner and the employees, sales taxes, excise taxes, property taxes and more.    

According to a poll of 1,000 New Yorkers commissioned by the NYSUT, 92 percent support a wealth tax on those with more than $1 billion in wealth, a new ultramillionaires tax on those with incomes over $5 million and a pied-à-terre tax (a cute way of saying a tax on second homes) as a means to close off New York’s budget gap.

I guarantee that whoever responded to the survey thinks that the billionaires won’t miss their money and that this is just a temporary and limited fix to a current problem.

They’re wrong on all counts.

If you start penalizing people for accumulating wealth they will leave, no matter if they have more money than you and I could spend in a million lifetimes. As mentioned earlier, those billionaires and their enterprises already pay millions in taxes every year. If you start taxing them on wealth and not just income, whether or not they made good money that year, they will find a state that won’t. They’ll go and they’ll likely take their headquarters, if not all their operations, with them.

Those billionaires made a career, a lifestyle, out of trying to make money and create productive enterprises; they’re not going to throw it away to a new, unusual and destructive tax system, especially when you can be certain it won’t go away: This is New York; the basic law of taxation physics here is that new taxes can be created but they cannot be destroyed.

And, in such a vacuum, said taxes can always be expanded.

The NYSUT proposal might currently call for a wealth tax on billionaires but, after you’ve normalized such behavior, who’s to say it wouldn’t be extended to millionaires ten, twenty years down the road when another alleged budget (read: over-spending) crisis comes to the fore? Once the accumulation of wealth is vilified and people are punished for it, shouldn’t it hold true for all levels of wealth? After all, that’s what we do with income taxes – no one but the very poor can escape having to pay for their exertion of sweat and time.

Once millionaires are pulled into the mix with wealth taxes it would be a lot more people than you’d believe. It’s not those making a million dollars every year. It’s regular people who have accumulated assets in excess of a million dollars.

Millionaires could be those who don’t have a public pension and are planning for 20 to 30 years of blissful retirement. They’ve worked their tails off and saved their whole working lives to get to that point. Because of the forward thinking and sacrifices of such souls there are now more 401(k) and IRA millionaires than ever before in the US – 233,000 and 208,000, respectively. Many more break the millionaire threshold with what they have in the bank, their homes and other retirement accounts like mutual funds and stocks. They have paid and will pay taxes on all of the above, so why should they be taxed for the very act of ownership, too?

Millionaires could also be small business owners who are cash poor but asset rich by the essence of owning a business. Consider farmers, for example. I don’t know any farmer whose personal income would ever be considered wealthy. As a matter of fact, the ag economy has been so bad in recent years that farms are closing left and right, some farm families are using food pantries in winter’s lean months and many farmers have committed suicide because of financial woes. While they and their business may not be making money, a tax on multimillionaires would steal cash from them because they own a business that itself owns millions of dollars in assets in the form of vast acres of land, heads of cattle and equipment (a single John Deere combine costs around $400,000). Who in their right mind would stay in business if a wealth tax added even more to their losses?

Is it right to tax Average Joe retirees and farmers because they’ve accumulated millions in personal value? No. It’s not right to do it to billionaires, either. Wealth taxes should not be introduced now or ever. They punish the American Dream, saving, thrift and investment – all characteristics that were once, and still should be, considered desirable personal and professional traits. 

From the 17 February 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, February 7, 2020

Don’t close our country to Burmese immigrants

One of every four people I work with at Confer Plastics are what you might call New Americans. Of them, most are from Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma.

They came to America by either relocation from refugee camps (having been forced from their homeland) or under their own accord (to escape persecution). They were victims of ongoing civil wars, all of which were along social and religious divisions. The horrors they saw or experienced were overwhelming, especially given that much of it occurred at the hands of the very military that was, in theory, supposed to protect them. They suffered through slavery, child labor and human trafficking of women and children alike. They saw their villages burned and family members defiled and murdered.  

If they were able to escape such horrors or were driven out they were often placed in refugee camps in India, Thailand and Malaysia. Those camps were surrounded by barbed wire, food was not in abundance and housing was, at best, nothing more than skinny planks or pallets cobbled together.

After spending years in such camps, the United Nations and United States would relocate them. Common destinations were Des Moines, Indianapolis, and Buffalo. Erie County became home to 9,000 Burmese refugees.

All of them wanted to leave their frightening, scarring past behind and start life anew. They went from Hell to Heaven – it’s a blessing that they could go from one of the worst nations on the planet to the best.

And, it’s a blessing that we have them here.

My Burmese teammates, currently numbering around three dozen, are exceptional people. Very hard working. Unyieldingly respectful and loving. I consider myself lucky that we can work together…they to better us, we to better their circumstances.

They are living the American Dream with passion, working hard to do as many of us born here are – they’re growing their families, putting roofs over their heads and food in their bellies, planning for college and retirement, making investments, going on vacations and contributing to our economy and communities.

They have freedom.

They value it.

They use it.

They’re great Americans for that.

Their friends and family, facing atrocities back in Myanmar, would do and be the same.

But, might never know that…at least during the rest of this Presidency.

President Trump recently announced a ban on 6 more countries. Myanmar is among the additions, the latest in a long line of so called “travel bans” that now includes 13 countries.

While visas will still be given to Burmese travelling here for a temporary stay (tourism, business, medical treatment) and Burmese refugees will still be allowed to come here, all other forms of immigration will be suspended, be it through lotteries or visas that could lead to citizenship, including visas for spouses and certain family members.

So, while it’s not a full-out ban because refugees are still given the chance to settle, there are many issues to consider.

One, Trump cut down on refugee resettlements to only 18,000 for 2020. His previous ceiling was 30,000 and this marks the third time he has made a cut. Refugee allowances will be at their lowest since 1980 when the modern refugee program began. Fewer people will be able to escape encampment to find a better life.

Two, by negating immigration and making refugee access the only in, we are delaying or preventing people who could escape the horrors in Myanmar from coming here. We’re basically saying “experience the evil, go to a crummy camp, then we’ll let you in.”

Three, by preventing family members who could leave the destruction in Myanmar from finally being reunited with their family here who had been driven out years ago, we only extend the misery and heartbreak that has become the norm in their lives.

Lastly, this plays to the narrative of Trump’s opponents (and, as matter of fact, his own narrative from the campaign trail) that he’s closing off our borders to Muslims. Everything was fine when most of the Burmese immigrants were like most of my Burmese coworkers – Karen Christians. Now that the immigrants are predominantly Rohingya Muslims (who are faced with mass exodus, genocide and ethnic cleansing) the doors are closed. It’s not coincidental.

We as a nation need to be better in all these matters and allow the Burmese and other people in harm’s way to come here as immigrants. In many cases, that’s why the predecessors of a good many of this paper’s readers came here. America is a destination for hope for a reason; we have something pretty special here.

Yes, immigration should have controls and limits -- we don’t want a free-for-all, open borders or illegal immigration -- but we shouldn’t get to the point that we turn the spigot so much that we’ve basically stopped the flow of good people in serious need from coming into this country to make their lives – and ours -- better.  

From the 10 February 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News