Millionaires for Tax Raises, and the Non-Millionaires Who Hate Them

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Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, a group of very rich people asking the president to raise their taxes, will probably not play a major role in the Bush tax cut debate. It's too easy to treat them the way conservatives treat Hollywood activists by filing their plea under the category of "more outspoken liberals scolding us."

While I think these activists probably won't be helpful, I find this even more unhelpful: the suggestion that liberals who want higher taxes should simply cut checks to the government. Here's Gregg Easterbrook making the case on (I know, I know...) ESPN.com:

Rich people such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, who say they favor higher taxes on the wealthy, should bear in mind that they can tax themselves immediately. Right now the top rate for federal income taxes in 35 percent; Obama has proposed raising the number to 39.6 percent beginning in 2011. Nothing stops Gates, or Moby, or any other rich person from simply calculating an additional tax of 4.6 percent, and adding it to the check they send to the Treasury. If you're rich and say you believe the rich should be taxed more -- then tax yourself!

This line of argument doesn't deserve to be taken very seriously, but for what it's worth: No, rich people. Do not tax yourself. If Moby raises his marginal tax rate to 39.6 percent, he might pay for two additional education department staffers. If, by contrast, Moby succeeds in campaigning for a higher tax rate for all millionaires, we pay for the entire education department, and more.

Gregg Easterbrook cares a lot about global warming. He should know, and care about, the difference between one person donating money to the government after paying her electric bill and the United States passing a carbon tax. The first suggestion does nothing and the second changes green energy policy.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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