The opinions in this op-ed are those of its author; it does not necessarily reflect the views of Los Angeles magazine or its editors.
I love my money and I have a lot of it. I spend much time monitoring my assets, figuring out how to make them grow and keep them safe. I’m not anywhere near a billionaire but there is nothing I want that I can’t afford nor any further security that I could need. Since I was 12 years old, it was my goal to make and keep a lot of money, so that I could avoid the fate I saw befall my father: languishing in a career he hated and feeling too vulnerable to stand up to those who he felt had done him wrong. At this point, I only work on projects I want to work on, and nobody fucks with me and gets away with it. Given this, most people with whom I interact, mostly in a casino playing poker with middle-class, non-entertainment industry people, or on Facebook with upper-middle-class Hollywood Reporter readers, were quite surprised to learn that I was first supporting Elizabeth Warren for president and now that she doesn’t seem to have a viable path to the nomination, that I am wholeheartedly behind Bernie Sanders.
“Wow, Gav, I didn’t know you were so far to the left,” one friend of mine, who works in private equity, said to me. I was taken aback. I am in no way a “lefty.” I don’t want open borders. I own guns. Before I became an Independent about ten years ago, I was a Republican. But, still, I want a candidate who will tax my assets, not just my income, because it is in my own best interest to have that happen. History has shown us that when the collective wealth of a society is over-weighted in the pockets of a very few, things eventually go bad, as they did in France in 1789, Russia in 1917, China in 1949, and Iran in 1979. Sure, it is doubtful that there will be a bloody revolution in the U.S., but many who live here are justifiably dissatisfied and have been for quite some time.
“Ya, but people are doing better now than ever,” some Fox News watcher said to me at the poker table, and he is as wrong in this assertion as he is in thinking he can play poker. What Fox News never reports, and what that dude doesn’t get, is that in 1989, the top 10 percent of people owned 67 percent of the nation’s personal wealth, the middle 40 percent owned 30 percent and the bottom 50 percent owned just 3 percent. Those are pretty stark numbers. Yet today things are even more unfair, with the top 10 percent owning 77 percent of personal wealth, the middle 40 percent owning 22 percent and the bottom 50 percent owning just 1 percent. In fact, the top 25 households in the nation have a greater net worth than the bottom two-thirds.
What most middle class and rich people don’t seem to consider is what it is like being one of the majority of people who make up the bottom 50 percent. Yes, we have record low unemployment, but wages are stagnant. Forty percent of people would have to go into debt to cover a $500 emergency, 80 percent live paycheck to paycheck, the average person’s healthcare expenses have increased faster than their incomes over the past decade, and 25 percent of people say they have skipped necessary medical care, because of cost. Student debt is over $1.5 trillion, public university tuition has tripled, adjusted for inflation, since I went to college in the ’80s, the average student has about $30,000 in debt when they graduate, black students carry more debt than white students and are five times more likely to default. And all of this is going on during the longest running economic expansion in history, with a stock market that is still at an extraordinarily high-level, despite this week’s coronavirus-induced record selloff.
In short, we must restructure our society in terms of not only the wealth gap but also the gaps in access to health care and higher education, all of which are a result of a lack of appropriate funding. There is no other way to do this other than to put a levy on personal assets. Taxing income alone won’t do it, as so much wealth is locked up in capital that never gets taxed under the current system. Warren Buffet reported about $11.5 million in income in 2015 but the increase in his net wealth has averaged over $2 billion, annually, during the ten years prior. I’m sure Jeff Bezos’s tax versus treasure situation is even more distorted. Rich people, like me, are able to accumulate large amounts with little taxation and then pass it on, tax free, after they die.
Am I saying that if we don’t restructure our economy we elites will be hauled off to the guillotine? No. Though the upper class in every country that goes through a revolution never sees it coming. But ask yourself what will happen when the eventual downturn in our wonderful economy finally comes. Do you think there will be fewer homeless people in your city? Less crime? Less racism and immigrant blaming? Fewer mass shootings or acts of terrorism? Less chance of a pandemic? Fewer people coming over the border? More money for public schools? What happens when interest rates finally go back up and we need to refinance the huge amount of public debt our government has taken on since 2000 to fight multiple wars, bolster the economy through the recession, increase the defense budget and decrease taxes on the rich and corporations? Donald Trump’s coked-up “best economy ever” is producing a $1 trillion annual budget deficit. In a recession, tax receipts naturally drop but when we’re not reducing the debt during the good times, let alone the deficit, the result of an economic slump will be catastrophic.
“What is the good of having more money if the country turns to shit and those below you on the economic scale are in revolt?”
“But Trump is an existential threat and Bernie can’t win!” is something that gets posted by narrow-thinkers on my Facebook feed, as well as that “the typical voter is older and more moderate than Bernie, so Biden and Klobuchar have a better chance to beat Trump.” Bullshit. Uncle Joe is incoherent, will lose in a debate with Trump and has a complicated history of supporting now discredited legislation. Amy Klobuchar is polling with African Americans at levels somewhere between David Dukes and George Wallace. Bernie has proven that he can raise a lot of cash from small donors—$46.5 million in February—and he has energized young people in a way nobody has expected. The plan to beat Trump should be to get 18- to 30-year-olds to turnout in record numbers. That’s how Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama won. Hillary alienated this key demo, and they either didn’t show up at the polls or voted for third-party candidates.
“But Bloomberg is more electable and has all that money to spend!” He’s definitely got all the cabbage, but he doesn’t have much integrity. Who really knows what he’d do in office? Look at all of the positions he has disavowed just recently, to try and make himself more appetizing: he used to be in favor of stop-and-frisk policing, he blamed the last recession on the end of racist “redlining,” and was initially against a $15 minimum wage. As mayor, Bloomberg pushed to get his term limit changed, so he could run a third time; and then, after he was out of office, he said that the two-term limit should be reinstituted. Every Democrat exclaims that they want to get special interest money from corporations and billionaires, like GOP funders Sheldon Adelson and Robert Mercer, out of politics. Will Bloomberg fight to turn off the tap for the rich and powerful to influence elections when his only avenue to the presidency was paved by his own check book? Or, once in office, will Bloomberg use his cash hoard to change laws that currently check the power of the president? Bernie is not only the most consistent in his positions of all the major candidates, but he is also the most independent from special interest groups.
I wish there were a viable woman or person of color for whom I could vote on Tuesday and in whom I could have confidence that they’d take on, with all vigor, the problem of economic inequality in this country. I wish Bernie didn’t call himself a “Democratic socialist”, which is a meaningless distraction for many who inaccurately equate it with Communism. But there is no perfect candidate that any of us can support, and so, despite the financial cost I will likely suffer during a Sanders administration, I am all in on Bernie. Because, what is the good of having more money if the country turns to shit and those below you on the economic scale are in revolt? How much more would you pay to not have step over homeless people on the street? Wouldn’t it actually help the economy to better educate more people and wouldn’t that economic benefit flow to you, as well? Wouldn’t it be of value to you to know everyone was finally covered by health insurance? The answer for me to all that is “Hell yes!” The difference between you and me is that you don’t have more than $32 million and I do, so you won’t have to pay the tax and I will.
Sometimes, doing what is best for me means doing what is best for us. I wish more rich people would come to understand that.
Gavin Polone is the producer of movies including Panic Room, Zombieland, and A Dog’s Purpose, and has produced TV shows including Gilmore Girls and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
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