This post is a continuation of a previous one – click here to see No Billionaire in Spanish – Part 1.
One of the Hebrews prophets told a story about a rich farmer who, after a bumper crop harvest, considered all his gain to be for himself. This forerunner of the “self-made man” met up with an unforeseen fate: Fool, this very night your life shall end. And all your things – whose shall they be?
American English produced the word billionaire more than 100 years ago. Other languages, including Spanish, have yet to adopt the word. Spanish simply uses multi-millonario; the compound word fails, however, to grasp the expansiveness intended by the newer word. The first billionaire in the world, John Rockefeller, and his wealthy contemporary, Andrew Carnegie, inherently knew that their accumulations of cash and capital exceeded any previous markers; they chose to share from their voluminous excesses as a matter of necessity. Somehow, it would have been wrong for them to keep all they had for themselves and their families. As a matter of fact, Carnegie implored Rockefeller to do as he planned: disinherit family members. Whereas Carnegie and his wife Louise had only one daughter, Rockefeller and his wife Cettie were the parents of four children surviving into adulthood, and were not prepared to join Carnegie on the mission to keep their progeny from frivolously wasting their inheritances.
Do you know the history of taxation in the US? There have been tariff fees, excise (sales) and property taxes since the colonial era. It’s only been since 1913 – when Rockefeller’s and other affluent types’ incomes were cresting – that there has been a federal income tax. Very progressive (if you make more, you pay more) upon the highest incomes, only a small percentage of Americans originally paid federal income taxes. The phrase “ability to pay” was often used by President Woodrow Wilson to describe the tax’s purpose; those who make more have the responsibility to pay more. President Franklin Roosevelt used the same rationale decades after Wilson to guide the nation through the Depression and World War II. Since that time the majority of Americans have paid federal income taxes.
The implementation of the 16th amendment, 101 years ago, allowed for federal taxation and provided the government with a revenue stream that significantly outdistanced tariff duties. In this current day of individualism, the expectation that some contribute more than others because of their “ability to pay” is hotly contested. While that debate could fill multi-numerous blog posts, this post will simply close with the words of the Hebrew prophet – Jesus – who hinted at the dead end of considering personal wants above all others. “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves,” and are not, I will add, rich towards divine things, like the common good.