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If billionaires want the government to have more of their money, why not just give it to them?

“I’m a billionaire. Please raise my taxes”

So wrote Tom Steyer, president of the left wing advocacy organization NextGen America in an op-ed for the LA Times last year.

Steyer wrote

As a billionaire, I would profit substantially from the tax cuts proposed last week by President Trump and the Republican Party. But I am strongly opposed to even one more penny in cuts for rich people and corporations.

My reason is simple: Tax cuts for the rich defund the critical public programs on which American families depend.

Put your money where your mouth is

For now, we can leave aside the question of whether federal government spending really is so lean and efficiently targeted that cutting federal revenues will plunge us back into the Dark Ages. But we can offer Mr. Steyer a very simple solution for his worries.

The U.S. Treasury will gratefully accept any gift that Mr. Steyer and any other ‘patriotic millionaires‘ want to give it. If Mr. Steyer wants to give more money to the federal government he can do so and he can do it today. In the 2017 fiscal year, the Treasury received $2.6 million this way. So far this year, it has received just $641,000.

These are pretty small sums. To put them in context, the federal government borrowed $488 billion in the first quarter of 2018. In other words, all the gifts given in fiscal year 2017 covered less than one minute of federal government borrowing. It would seem for all their bluster that our ‘patriotic millionaires’ are much keener on talking about giving money to the federal government than they are to actually do it.

The standard retort is that they think everyone should be paying more, not just them. Furthermore, they think that, if others are not so eager to hand more of their money to the government the law should be changed to force them to.

These are standard political questions of taxation. Mr. Steyer may get his desired electoral result, he may not. But in the meantime there is absolutely nothing whatsoever stopping Mr. Steyer setting an example and being the change he claims to believe in. Talk is cheap.

South Africa, by the way, has the most progressive tax system in the world. It also, according to some figures, has the world’s highest levels of income inequality.

John Phelan is an economist at Center of the American Experiment. 

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