When Chris Hughes and I were at Harvard (40 years apart), and for the year following, we were both little business tycoons. He wound up making $500 million for three years’ work; I wound up on a magazine cover inside a bubble about to burst.
We are virtually the same person, except he has half a billion dollars.
And ran the 2008 digital campaign that helped elect Barack Obama.
And has launched a campaign to end poverty.
Toward which end, he’s written Fair Shot — short, sweet, and important.
The sweet part is his personal story. And his total recognition of the role luck played. (His college roommate was Mark Zuckerberg.) And his description of his parents and grandparents and what it was like to be the poor kid on scholarship at the elite prep school.
The important part is his effort to address America’s increasingly debilitating and immoral inequality, informed in part by two trips he took to Africa. (Yes: give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish . . . but it turns out there’s a stronger case than you’d think for leaving fish out of it altogether and just giving a man or woman cash.)
His plan is to tax income above $250,000 — including dividends and capital gains — at 50%. Along with other revenue-raisers he proposes, he calculates it would be enough to provide $500 a month to every worker who earns less than $50,000 a year — including students who work at studying, and parents who work at raising kids or caring for their parents. And that, in turn, would cut poverty dramatically — and do good things for our economy overall.
As reviewed here, in the New York Times — and as you may conclude on your own — the plan needs work.
Would someone earning $50,100 get nothing, while someone who earned $49,900 get $6,000 a year? (Presumably the benefit would phase out on some schedule as one approached $50,000.) Would this be based on what you earned last year? If you kept getting checks this year — but wound up earning more than $50,000 this year — would you have to send the money back? How would Uncle Sam avoid fraud?
Should someone earning $280,000 really be in the same 50% marginal tax bracket as someone earning $280 million?
I’m quite sure Chris has sensible answers or could come up with sensible tweaks. (In rural Alabama, he suggests, the check might be lower than in San Francisco or New York.)
But for me what’s important are not the details of his plan, but his argument that after decades of rising inequality — and as we near the time when artificial intelligence puts so many out of work it becomes unclear what everyone will do — we need to talk seriously about what sort of society we want to have.
The smaller-but-important boost Chris proposes?
The winner-take-all plutocracy we have now?
In which a single family of heirs and heiresses, the Waltons, Chris notes, controls as much wealth as the bottom 43% of the country, combined — 137 million Americans?
Is it really because those 137 million — many of them working for WalMart — are lazy . . . or have things gotten out of whack?
Read Fair Shot and let me know what you think.