A war hero with not a single scandal I can recall, Dwight Eisenhower — a Republican — served two terms as President . . . yet you just don’t hear about him from Republicans. They think he was a socialist.
He stood up to Khrushchev and built our nuclear arsenal; but also famously said . . .
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
. . . a quote that should be engraved above the door to both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.
Even better known: his farewell address, warning of the military-industrial complex. (Clip.)
Less well-known, yet of perhaps even more interest today: his worry over concentrated wealth.
By CHUCK COLLINS and SAM PIZZIGATI
November 9, 2008
Nearly 50 years ago, a famous American gave a speech that advocated spreading the wealth.
In some countries, this notable stated, “a few families are fabulously wealthy, contribute far less than they should in taxes, and are indifferent to the poverty of the great masses of the people.”
“A country in this situation,” he went on, “is fraught with continual instability.” Just who made this spread-the-wealth declaration against the dangers societies invite when they let wealth concentrate? The then-president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Ike’s words back in 1960 created no controversy. Americans overwhelmingly shared his spread-the-wealth convictions. Societies that discourage vast accumulations of private wealth, they believed, simply work better.
The U.S. tax code, back then, reflected this consensus. Income more than $400,000 a year — that’s a bit more than today’s $3 million, after adjusting for inflation — faced a 91 percent tax rate.
The rich of Ike’s day, of course, exploited tax loopholes, just like today’s rich. But even after exploiting loopholes, the wealthy of the Eisenhower years still paid a hefty share of their income in taxes.
In 1955, for instance, America’s 400 highest-income taxpayers averaged about $12 million in income, in today’s dollars. They paid, after loopholes, 51.2 percent of that in tax.
Let’s put these numbers in contemporary perspective. In 2005, our 400 richest taxpayers averaged $214 million and paid federal taxes on that princely sum, after exploiting loopholes, at a mere 18.5 percent rate.
In other words, today’s rich are taking home much more in income than Ike’s rich and paying taxes at a much lower rate.
Eisenhower, a Republican himself, would be aghast. Ike would see in our current financial meltdown proof positive that wealth, if left to concentrate, will bring on an “instability” that can endanger an entire nation.
Ike, were he around today, might even chide President-elect Barack Obama for taking too timid a tax-the-rich stance. Obama wants to raise the tax rate on America’s highest income bracket from 35 to 39.6 percent.
In the generation before Ronald Reagan’s 1980 election, Ike might point out, America’s top tax rate on the rich never dropped below 70 percent. The rich grumbled, but they survived.
Average Americans, in the meantime, didn’t just survive those tax-the-rich years. They prospered. In the quarter-century right after World War II, America’s typical family income more than doubled, and that’s after taking inflation into account.
Over the past quarter-century, by contrast, average Americans have progressed nowhere fast. Wages today, after inflation, are actually running less than wages in the early 1970s.
What’s the big difference between the years right after World War II and the last quarter-century? In the first era, we encouraged the spreading of wealth. In the second, we’ve let wealth concentrate.
Ike wouldn’t be happy. We shouldn’t be, either.
• Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies. Sam Pizzigati, an Institute associate fellow, edits “Too Much,” an online weekly on excess and inequality. This was distributed by the Progressive Media Project.
Today’s Republicans don’t talk much about Ike’s VP, either, former President Richard Nixon, whether because of his resignation or because some of them think he, too, was a socialist. (And, needless to say, a socialist is a terrible thing to be. The Europeans are all socialists and look what misery their lives are. The Germans driving those crappy cars, the French eating that crappy food, the Danes, Norwegians, Swiss, Dutch and Swedes barely all making it into the top 5 happiest countries on earth*.)
But now comes, from HBO (or HBOGO) “Nixon By Nixon” — 70 riveting minutes. Not that there’s so much you didn’t know . . . but to hear the actual conversations, the actual history, unfiltered (except of course in the choice of which conversations to include) — can you imagine sitting inside the Oval Office? Or having a tap on the President’s phone? Listening to these tapes, you are and you do.
Have a great weekend!
*The US ranks #17, but that must surely be a mistake.
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History is a vast early warning system.~Norman Cousins
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