After reading the Gilded Age article that appeared in this past Sunday's New York Times, a friend of mine posed the question "are we really living in a new Gilded Age?" I think there are definitely parallels, but there are a lot of social and economic differences between then and now. Coming back to an old theme, I'd say the parallel of most concern is the growing disparity between rich and poor that we see today. It's certainly on par with what we saw in the Gilded Age and pre-depression America.
In the article, a bunch of the rich guys take issue with the suggestion that they make too much money. They say their work is worth the money they are paid or earn. Frankly, I don't really care how much they make, in the same way I don't care how much Kobe Bryant makes. It doesn't make sense to me, but I don't really care. I do care when it's absolutely unjustified - like when Paul Wolfowitz went to the World Bank after architecting this misbegotten war in Iraq with a $400,000 salary. He should be doing time, not doubling his salary.
But otherwise, I just want their income to be taxed, taxed, and taxed again (ok, once is enough, as long as it's for a lot). For example, the article mentions a hedgefund guy who made a billion dollars last year. That money should be taxed at 75%, or more. He'd still have hundreds of millions to work with.
Anybody making more than $250,000 should be looking at some serious taxes - not paying less, percentage wise, than working class people who can't afford a shifty accountant. That's the only way we're going to get out of the financial mess we're in - coupled with higher corporate taxes and fewer industry subsidies. They certainly don't need the tax cuts that the Bush administration and the embarrassingly subservient Congress gave them.
We've got $8.8 trillion in debt, for which we paid about $400 billion in interest last year. And will again this year, and the year after that, and ... That's basically the totality of funds for the Pentagon last year, minus the costs of the endless war in Iraq (and Afghanistan). On top of that, our budget deficit this year will be about $250 billion. That's the lowest in the Bush years, but still a huge sum of money. So like it or not, rich people - and most Americans, really - need to pay more in taxes, in addition to serious spending cuts across the board.
So taxing the bejeezus out of rich people will help on the income disparity a bit through income redistribution via gov't programs and other support for the poor. In addition, I would raise the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour, and let municipalities where it should be higher - NYC, Chicago, LA - adjust it up accordingly (a living wage). That would mean that the minimum yearly wage, for a job with 40 hours a week and two weeks of vacation, would be $20,000. The law would have to have exceptions to that, but I think it's reasonable for McDonald's, for example, to have to pay an FTE $20,000 a year to flip burgers. That, coupled with young people making $10 an hour for part time jobs as well, would put a lot more money into the economy than giving tax cuts on capital gains ever will.
That's my plan. You can start hurling things at it now.