The Pandemic is Exacerbating Economic Inequality. Here’s a Wild Idea: Tax the Rich.

Greetings from the oh-so-snowed-in Southern Appalachians, Keep It Rural readers. We got well over a foot of snow on Sunday here in Transylvania County, North Carolina, along with some icy, sleety topping on the winter precipitation layer cake.

Photo from Bryce Oates.

Luckily, the power is still on and the internet is still working, as I hope yours is. If not, I hope your communications infrastructure gets fixed and functional (likely by local governments, rural electric cooperatives and other public sector workers) as soon as possible.

I am thinking about functioning rural infrastructure and public services for reasons beyond snow today, too. For me, these sorts of situation bring up the bigger “how are we gonna pay for it” question. Seems like a good place to start looking for the money is with those who can afford it: the billionaires who have raked it in during the last two years of public health nightmares and economic struggles.

Yesterday marked the issuance of Oxfam’s latest “Inequality Kills” report, a global look at “economic violence”—widening economic, gender, and racial inequalities—that is “perpetrated when structural policy choices are made for the richest and most powerful people” causing “direct harm to us all, and to the poorest people, women and girls, and racialized groups most.”

The report includes some startling global statistics: “A new billionaire has been created every 26 hours since the pandemic began. The world’s 10 richest men have doubled their fortunes, while over 160 million people are projected to have been pushed into poverty. Meanwhile, an estimated 17 million people have died from Covid-19—a scale of loss not seen since the Second World War.” It’s a worth a look.

Whether to raise taxes on billionaires in order to pay for a better rural America is a policy and politics question. To me, it’s a no brainer, but I have about as much influence on politics as I do on my teenage sons’ taste in music. Luckily, a lot of rural voters agree that raising taxes on the rich is the right politics.

A recent poll by Americans for Tax Fairness found rural voters “overwhelmingly support” taxing the rich. The poll found that “63% of rural voters support raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations in general, 59% support raising them on those earning more than $400,000 a year, and 55% support raising the corporate tax rate to 28%.” And those answers are for the generic rich, not even focusing on the ridiculous billionaires who are raking it in while they fly themselves and their cars into outer space.

If we’re going to close that economic inequality gap in order to have a more fair economy, and find money to pay for the infrastructure and services and amenities we want in rural America, it’s gonna take taxing the rich in addition to more jobs with better pay and benefits in rural to get the job done.

Rural Reading List

This week’s reading list has some information about potential economic change in rural college towns, a couple pieces on economic development potential in rural communities through federal investments and a case study on the changing ethnicity and politics of a rural community in Iowa. Check them out: 

In a Rural Town With Two Historically Black Colleges, Student Needs Extend Beyond the Classroom

This Daily Yonder story (based on a rural college issues newsletter from Open Campus) shines a light on the need for better “town-gown” relationships in many rural communities with institutions of higher education.

Broadband Funding: ‘It’s Like History Repeating Itself in a Good Way’

This Yonder article follows up on last week’s Keep It Rural, exploring how New England states have effectively leveraged federal dollars for local economic benefits, building high speed internet infrastructure in this case.

Iowa Town Translates Its Diverse Population into a Majority Latino City Council

From Iowa Public Radio, a report from a small town in Southeast Iowa. West Liberty, Iowa’s first majority Hispanic/Latino town, is now also Iowa’s only town with a majority Hispanic/Latino city council.

What Makes a Town ‘Rural’? The Answer Can Mean the Difference of Billions in Federal Aid

St. Louis Public Radio on two of Keep It Rural’s favorite issues: defining “rural” and the role/importance of federal spending in rural communities.

One More Thing: Xandr Brown on MLK Day

Make sure and watch the video of Daily Yonder’s Xandr Brown from yesterday. Xandr has some big thoughts on the national MLK holiday, as she reads the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. You’ll find such nuggets as:

  • “Martin Luther King Jr. was a jailbird,” and
  • “He was a threat to the convenience of keeping things the same and doing just enough to keep the peace. The convenience of being able to live with laws that one may never feel the true effect of. In my view, he represents the fight against the kind of convenience of tokenizing his words without ever having read him.”

I remember reading King’s book “Why We Can’t Wait” in my second semester of college, African-American Writers and Writing. Just like Xandr, it was my first encounter of King in the written word. And it has stuck with me since, particularly the message that it’s almost always a mistake to wait around for permission from the rich and powerful for “the right time” to protest, agitate and organize.

Yesterday afternoon, I watched the HBO Documentary “King in the Wilderness,” and it just amplified Xandr’s thoughts about King as an inconvenience-promoting leader. This documentary focuses on King’s transformation from civil rights leader to antiwar campaigner and economic justice organizer in the years before he was murdered. It’s certainly worth your time if you’d like to dig a bit further into the actual experience and deeper historical impact of this complicated leader and the movements he participated in during the second half of the 1960s.

Have a good week, Keep It Rural Friends. Stay safe and warm out there.

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