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Inequality and the Boss

Bruce Springsteen weighs in on the Presidential election and the Bush tax cutin today’s New York Times:

We granted tax cuts to the richest 1 percent (corporate bigwigs, well-to-do guitar players), increasing the division of wealth that threatens to destroy our social contract with one another and render mute the promise of “one nation indivisible.”

Never mind that the tax cut was across the board, it is true that rich people got tax breaks, too. I like the self-effacing admission that he too benefited from it. Clinton used the same rhetorical flourish in his speech to the Democratic convention:

I almost sent them a thank you note for my tax cuts until I realized that the rest of you were paying the bill for it. And then I thought better of it.

So here’s the puzzle. If Bruce and Bill think the tax cut was wrong, if they think that the division of wealth threatens to destroy the social contract, why don’t they give the money away? They could give the money back to the Treasury. People donate money to the Treasury every year. I know it’s weird but it happens. Or the rich who resent their tax cut could give it to their local soup kitchen.

One answer is that the rich are simply posturing. The other answer is that smallish gestures are inferior to grand public gestures. By refusing the tax cut in this manner you make it harder to get everyone to give up their tax cut and redistribute wealth more widely via new initiatives.

A public ceremony where wealthy people wrote checks to charities equal to their tax cut would have a lot more political bang for the buck than an op-ed in the New York Times. Go for it, Bruce.