Sunday, May 1, 2011

As It Stands: UFE: Dreaming of economic equality

By Dave Stancliff/For the Times-Standard

Posted: 05/01/2011 02:40:20 AM PDT

Once upon a time, some wealthy people in the Kingdom got together and said, “We need to be fair and share.” It was a beautiful kingdom stretching from sea to sea, a marvel and example of what a country should be.

A fantasy? Perhaps not. Let me introduce you to “United for a Fair Economy (UFE),” a national, independent, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Their goal is to close the growing wealth divide, to change the rules that tilt tax benefits toward the wealthy, and to spotlight the role of race in economic inequality.

Their mission is to raise awareness that concentrated wealth and power undermine the economy, corrupt democracy, deepen the racial divide, and tear communities apart. Talk about taking on “Mission Impossible.” The members of UFE believe in their vision of a global society where prosperity is shared.

 This is certainly a noble vision where corporations don't dominate our economy or the content of our mass culture. In their version of a better world, values, not profits alone, will guide economic decisions. But who are “they?” These visionaries? These Ivory Tower dreamers?

”They” are a collection of wealthy (you read that right) people who want to raise taxes on rich people like themselves. As strange as that may sound, it's on the level. To learn more about them, go to the website

Let me tell you about one of the members of UFE. His name is Eric Schoenberg. He inherited money and has a healthy portfolio from his days as an investment banker. Currently, he teaches a business class at Columbia University. Not exactly some kook who wants to endorse a social upheaval.

Schoenberg recently told AP that his income is usually “north of half a million a year.” He had a rough year last year and only made $200,000. His federal income tax bill was a little over $2,000. “I simply point out to people, 'Do you think this is reasonable, that someone in my circumstances should only be paying 1 percent of their income in tax?” he asked reporters.

Now that tax day has come and gone, both Democrats and Republicans are calling for tax laws to be changed. The whole issue will be campaign fodder for the 2012 presidential election as the two parties get entrenched in their ideological foxholes.

The Republicans have made their position clear when it comes to rich people paying more taxes. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, remarked that nothing stopped rich people who wanted to write checks to the IRS from doing so.

Technically he's right, but obviously he missed the entire point.

Schoenberg asked, “Are we going to let people volunteer to build the road system? Are you going to let them volunteer to pay for education?”

Enter UFE. Can they make a difference? Our politicians are polarized by partisan politics and neither side shows signs of cooperating on meaningful issues.

Is the private sector set to become America's savior? Will financial equality settle upon the land and values replace greed if enough wealthy people help UFE and other nonprofits with the same idea? Is there actually a chance of racial equality in earning power? Will America's roads be repaired and education restored as priority number one in the land?

Sounds like a dream, eh? What are the chances groups like UFE will make a difference? It's hard for me to imagine generations of greed defeated by values in our society today. That's a sad statement to make, and I would love to be wrong and see a real shift in equality, both financially and racially, in the future.

As It Stands, Dom Helder Camara once said, “When we are dreaming alone, it is only a dream. When we are dreaming with others, it is the beginning of reality.”


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