I have a secret dream, I’ve had it for a while now. In this dream, I am incredibly persuasive. I can convince anyone to come around to my point if I just have the time to explain it to them. I also, somehow, have the ability to get powerful people in the same room as me.

And you know what I do with all of that power? I convince rich people to pay their taxes.

I’ve been in this sustainable, ethical and eco space for a while now, and I don’t think we’re talking about taxes enough. So today, I’m going to talk about it.

Who knows, maybe someday, somehow, I’ll be able to achieve my secret dream. But until then I’ll settle with explaining why we should all advocate for progressive taxation policy.

The rise of billionaires

“No one makes a billion dollars. You TAKE a billion dollars,” economist Stephanie Kelton, a former advisor to Bernie Sanders, tweeted last week.

“You plunder it from the environment …You strip it using patent protections,” she wrote, referencing the many ways the U.S. enables and supports people ― IP protections, lax regulation, low taxes, weak labor protections ― in amassing obscene amounts of wealth.


Billionaires were once a rare occurrence. In 1982 Forbes released its first list of the 400 richest Americans, which included around a dozen billionaires. The richest had an estimated worth of $2 billion (equivalent to $5.2 billion today).

Now, in 2019, the list is entirely billionaires. Jeff Bezos holds onto the top spot, with a worth of $131 billion. But that’s not all. A report from Oxfam shows that the number of billionaires in the world has doubled since the 2008 financial crisis, with 26 people owning the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion people on the planet.

So how has this happened?

In short, public policy. In recent decades governments have directly funded and helped create systems where billionaires thrive. Without strict copyright and patent protections on his software Bill Gates couldn’t have amassed a fortune, Steve Jobs used a lot of government-funded technology to create the iPhone (and was initially funded by the U.S. government’s Small Business Investment Company program), and Google’s algorithm was funded by the National Science Foundation. Taxpayers have undoubtedly boosted these companies, and in return these companies have gone to great lengths to avoid paying taxes themselves.

Because ultimately, undertaxation is the main problem to be tackled. Historically in the USA the top marginal tax rate never dropped to lower than 70% from 1936-1980. In the 1950’s, that time people referred to when they said ‘make America great again’, the top marginal tax rate was over 90%.

Things changed when Reagan came to power at the start of the 1980s, as tax rates were slashed. This has continued until the present day as the Trump administration’s tax bills disproportionately benefit the wealthy.

Simultaneously, in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher came to power in the UK. During her time in power the richest in society saw their tax rates fall from 83% to 40% (although she did maintain a 60% rate for her first nine years). In 1979 the post-tax income of the top 10% was 5 times larger than the bottom 10%, by 1997 it had grown to 10 times larger. Inequality in the UK widened: child poverty more than doubled, the proportion of pensioners living below the poverty line rose from 13% to 43%, and mass unemployment reached levels not seen since the 1930s, which in turn exacerbated the north-south divide and regional inequality. Additionally, the financial deregulation of the Thatcher years created long term financial instability, as it laid the framework for the credit bubble of the 2000s and the credit crisis, and Thatcher policies caused two recessions.

Nowadays in the UK the poorest 10% pay a higher proportion of their incomes in tax than the richest 10%. On average, outside of the US, average top personal income tax rates fell from 62% in 1970 to 38% in 2013.

Oxfam’s report also shows that the super-rich are hiding at least $7.6 trillion from the tax authorities, avoiding an estimated $200bn in tax revenues, while a recent OECD study across 21 countries revealed that over 50% of those polled were in favour of governments raising taxes on the rich.