We are now in a second Gilded Age. Instead of taking steps that would strengthen our democracy, we're heading backward to the wealth inequalities of a century ago. We need to preserve the estate tax in states and at the federal level for exactly the reason it is under assault. In a democracy, we should be offended when the power of concentrated wealth brazenly attempts to shape the terms of policy debate and dictate the rules of our society.
Coming from a man who is asking for a tax on his own heirs — the richest family on earth — this logic is all the more striking in its clarity. He is insisting that rational taxation of family wealth is better than the damage to democracy that would otherwise occur.
These ideas are not unique to technology Democrats or their dads, either. Kevin Phillips, the economic historian whose own background is Republican, argues in his excellent book Wealth and Democracy:
For example, by 2000 the United States could be said to have a plutocracy, when back in 1990 the resemblance to the previous plutocracy of the Gilded Age had not yet fully matured. Compared with 1990, America's top millennial fortunes were three or four times bigger, reflecting the high-powered convergence of innovation, speculation, and mania in finance and technology. Moreover, the essence of plutocracy, fulfilled by 2000, has been the determination and ability of wealth to reach beyond its own realm of money and control politics and government as well. In America, explains political scientist Samuel Huntington, "money becomes evil not when it is used to buy goods but when it is used to buy power... economic inequalities become evil when they are translated into political inequalities."
If there is a running theme to the political content of this blog, it is best expressed by that quotation. We don't hate wealth or power. We hate the abuses of wealth and power.
Bill Gates Senior's article is heroic because it is ethical in an unethical time. He demands what is right — even when his family has so much to lose. By recognizing the greater good of American democracy, even for the wealthy, he reveals a backbone of political and economic morality that is totally absent from the White House.