Guest Columnist

Buttigieg: Bring balance to the U.S. economy

Attendees listen to Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg during a campaign rally in Coralville on Sunday, De
Attendees listen to Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg during a campaign rally in Coralville on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (David Harmantas/Freelance)

In America, we expect those who are doing the best to contribute the most. Yet in 2018, according to a new study by the non-partisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, nearly a hundred iconic American companies like Amazon and Chevron made billions in profits and paid zero in federal income taxes. The average tax rate for some of America’s biggest corporations is just 11.3%, roughly the rate paid by working people getting by on less than $40,000 a year.

When some of the most profitable corporations or individuals pay less in federal taxes than their minimum wage employees, something is fundamentally wrong in our economy. The balance that drove innovation and sustained the American middle class has been lost. Economic benefits once felt across the country are now enjoyed by a smaller and smaller slice at the top. While GDP and the stock market rise, paychecks aren’t keeping up with the soaring costs of health care, housing, and education.

This badly-tilted economic playing field has only gotten worse under this president. For all his talk about lifting up the forgotten man, what he’s really done is gift massive tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy, rolled back President Barack Obama’s common-sense protections against Wall Street excess, and let corporations run wild.

As the mayor of an industrial city for the past eight years, I’ve seen the cost of this corporate recklessness written in abandoned factories and vacant homes. I’ve watched what it does to a family — not just to its pocketbook, but its pride — when they don’t know how they’ll pay the bills at the end of the month. And I’ve witnessed the transformation that happened in South Bend — and can happen nationwide — when we invest in small businesses, provide opportunities for entrepreneurs, welcome immigrants and ensure the biggest players are doing their part to create shared prosperity.

The point is not to punish people for succeeding or increase taxes for its own sake. It’s about ensuring working families don’t have to choose between paying for health care or child care, or weigh the cost of retirement against the cost of college. Corporate America and their conservative friends like to talk about economic freedom, but freedom means more than freedom from taxes and regulations. Sometimes it’s the role of government to ensure that the rest of us have the freedom to live a life of our choosing.

So when I’m president, I won’t measure the success of our economy by the size of our GDP or the heights of the Dow Jones. I’ll measure it by how much a worker has in her pocket, whether a single parent can afford to pay their child’s medical bills, or if a senior can retire with dignity. And I will take unprecedented steps to bring balance back to our economy, so that our government looks out for American families and not just American corporations.

First, we will mobilize an American majority to usher in a fairer and smarter tax system. My administration will roll back the Trump corporate tax rate cuts and require large corporations to release all tax returns so we can see how they are gaming the system. In addition to raising corporate taxes to 35 percent, we’ll implement a financial transaction tax on banks and financial institutions that will raise $800 billion in revenue. We’ll implement a risk fee on big banks to discourage reckless behavior while generating an additional $100 billion that can be invested in our schools, roads, bridges, and other services for the American people. We’ll also crack down on the use of tax havens, so that profits can flow to the U.S. Treasury and not Bermuda. Instead of subsidizing oil and gas companies, we’ll invest more than $200 billion over the next decade to develop clean energy technologies.

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Second, we’ll hold corporate America accountable. From the opioid epidemic to low-income neighborhoods filled with pollutants, decisions made in boardrooms on Wall Street and committee rooms in Washington have devastated communities like mine all across the country. That culture of corporate impunity will end when I’m president. Pharmaceutical companies who put profits ahead of American lives will be penalized — and when egregious misconduct takes place, their patents will be on the line. Big tech companies that trade away our privacy will face greater antitrust enforcement, and be subject to breakup when they block competition. We’ll impose multimillion dollar fines on companies who interfere with union elections, and end the legal fictions that enable corporations to misclassify their workers as contractors to avoid providing full employee benefits.

Third, after decades where the middle class has declined hand-in-hand with rates of participation in organized labor, my administration will shift power away from corporations and back to workers. We’ll guarantee bargaining rights for all American workers, and implement new tools like multi-employer bargaining. We’ll double the percentage of workers who are in unions in this country, and raise the minimum wage to $15. While we’re at it, we’ll expand overtime protections and ensure workers get the predictable hours, wages, and support they deserve.

For too long, we have been expected to settle for less in this country. We see overcrowded schools, roads and bridges falling into disrepair, and hospitals closing in rural areas, and act if it’s that’s just the way it goes. But we have choices about where to put our resources. It’s time we choose to hold the most fortunate accountable and invest in the things that have made our country great. Together, we can end this era of unchecked greed and usher in a new era that values fairness as well as growth.

Pete Buttigieg is a Democratic presidential candidate.

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