Reed Hastings, head of Netflix, contributes an op-ed piece to today's Times entitled "Please Raise My Taxes." His premise, in essence, is that limiting executive salaries at companies receiving federal bailout funds, while satisfying the public's understandable thirst for vengeance, is ultimately self-defeating, in that it puts those companies at a competitive disadvantage at just the time when their competitive ability, indeed their ability to survive at all, is already severely compromised.
Much more effective, Hastings argues, would be to let companies pay whatever they want, but to tax high earners - his suggestion is anyone earning over a million dollars a year - at 50% rather than the current rate of 33%. The logic behind this is so impeccable that I'm annoyed it hadn't previously occurred to me. At a time when the economic system is so imperiled and millions of people are being put out of work, we obviously can't raise taxes on ordinary workers, let alone the unemployed, yet at the same time, the government is going to need vast amounts of new income to even begin to cover the massive deficits we are now rolling up.
We are entering a period where anyone who's still employed will be counting him or herself lucky; how much more so the executive who's pulling down a few million? Only the most churlish or greed-crazed could complain about having to scrape by on five million instead of ten at a time of national crisis like this one, and at the same time, the public would get the satisfaction that of any bailout money being used to pay executive bonuses or salaries, at least half would be coming straight back to the Treasury.
I had an uncle, now deceased, who, at least until I came along, was the only member of our family to have ever made any significant amount of money. When Reagan cut taxes for the well-to-do, he was outraged, and wrote to his Congressman: "I don't want a tax cut. I don't need a tax cut. I've got plenty of money. Take my taxes and use them to help people who aren't as well off as me."
He was ignored, of course, and the dire straits in which our country now finds itself are at least partially the result of the massive deficits run by ideologically-driven tax cutters (the same sort of Congressional screwballs, incidentally, are busily attempting to sabotage the economic stimulus program even as we speak). "Where are the dollar a year men?" more than one commentator has asked, referring to the many corporate executives, already fabulously rich, who volunteered to work for the government for that princely sum during a previous time of national crisis, namely the Second World War. It's clear now where the era of greed and personal irresponsibility has led us; it's time that those who have benefited disproportionately from the boom years show their gratitude and civic-mindedness by giving something back, and for that I salute Mr. Hastings and hope that others will follow his example.