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Millionaires say "tax us, tax us, tax us" to pay for coronavirus aid

Helping communities at highest risk of COVID-19
Helping communities at highest risk of COVID-19 07:54

Walt Disney Co. heiress Abigail Disney and more than 80 other wealthy individuals have signed an open letter asking the U.S. and other countries to raise taxes on the rich "immediately" and "permanently" to pay for aid needed to help poorer citizens get through the coronavirus pandemic.

"The problems caused by, and revealed by, Covid-19 can't be solved with charity, no matter how generous," the group, dubbed Millionaires for Humanity, said in a letter. "Government leaders must take the responsibility for raising the funds we need and spending them fairly."

Their solution: "Tax us. Tax us. Tax us. It is the right choice. It is the only choice."

The letter comes as the U.S. and other countries offer direct financial aid and implement other fiscal measures to help workers who have lost their jobs and businesses that were shuttered by the coronavirus. Although millions of American workers have been rehired as businesses reopened in recent weeks, unemployment stood at 11.1% in June — more than a percentage point higher than the peak jobless rate during the Great Recession. 

With an extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits set to end the week of July 25, as many as 23 million U.S. families face the risk of eviction if they can't pay their rent. Hunger is also on the rise, with U.S. food banks reporting unprecedented demand. Around the globe, 500 million people could be pushed into poverty by the coronavirus crisis, according to anti-poverty group Oxfam. 

Among the other notable individuals who signed the open letter include former BlackRock managing director Morris Pearl, movie director Amy Ziering, Disney heir Tim Disney, "Four Weddings and a Funeral" director Richard Curtis, venture capitalist William Janeway and Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream co-founder Jerry Greenfield.

"Wealthier than before the pandemic"

Pearl said the effort to raise taxes on the wealthy reflects concerns that "the current system is unsustainable."

"Having a few rich people and a lot of poor people won't work in the long term," Pearl told CBS MoneyWatch. "It might be fun to make more millions this month or next month, but over the long run I want my children and grandchildren to have the opportunities that I did — and they won't be able to if we don't change course."

Pearl added that his wealth has grown during the pandemic, thanks to gains in the stock market. But millions of people in the U.S. and in other countries don't have that same benefit. 

"I'm wealthier than I was before the pandemic, and I don't even work for a living," he said. With job losses in the pandemic, "there are millions of people who aren't able to earn anything — they don't have earnings from a stock portfolio."

Tax cuts for the rich

The millionaires' plea comes two years after the massive Tax Cuts and Jobs Act went into effect, which slashed U.S. corporate taxes and also provided generous cuts to many wealthy Americans. The middle class saw fewer benefits than the rich, the Congressional Budget Office said last year.

As a result, the 400 richest U.S. families now pay a lower overall tax rate than the middle-class, the first time that's happened in 100 years, according to an analysis published last year by economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. By comparison, in 1970 the richest Americans paid more than 50% of their income in taxes, twice as much as working-class individuals did.

While the Patriotic Millionaires and Millionaires for Humanity aren't publishing a specific goal for the tax rate they'd like to see for the ultra-rich, Pearl pointed to earlier decades when tax rates for the top earners were much higher, yet companies and individuals still built wealth. 

"Unlike tens of millions of people around the world, we do not have to worry about losing our jobs, our homes, or our ability to support our families," the letter noted. "We are not fighting on the front lines of this emergency and we are much less likely to be its victims."

Why some millionaires are receiving coronavirus stimulus funds 06:49

The Millionaires for Humanity effort is linked to a group that has for years advocated for higher taxes on the rich, Patriotic Millionaires. The latter group's most visible member has been Abigail Disney, who last year gained attention for her stand on higher pay for Disney workers. 

Disney has argued that workers who clean bathrooms at the company's theme parks shouldn't struggle to make a living wage when then-Disney CEO Robert Iger took home $64 million in 2018. In her view, Iger's pay was "insane" while workers said they were unable to make ends meet.

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