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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

2020 race will fall into the wealth gap

With the ultrarich leaving others behind, talk of taxes and spending will dominate.

Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, of California, acknowledges the

Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, of California, acknowledges the crowd as she formally launches her presidential campaign at a rally in her hometown of Oakland, Calif. on Jan. 27, 2019. Photo Credit: AP/Tony Avelar

As this unpredictable 2020 Democratic presidential primary race jets off with all its glorious potential for zaniness and chaos, one thing is certain:

You’re going to hear a lot of candidates offer a lot of plans to address the yawning chasm between the very wealthy and the rest of us. There are a lot of ideas out there already, and not everyone has jumped into the contender pool yet.

If you respond to these proposals with derision, that can only mean one of two things: You have a better plan. Or, you’re OK with this gap that just keeps getting worse.

Economic inequality has reached levels last seen in the 1920s, just before the Great Depression. Put one way, the net worth of the bottom 90 percent of Americans barely equals that of the wealthiest 0.1 percent. Put another way, the 400 richest Americans have more wealth than the 150 million adults who make up the bottom 60 percent.

Hard to put your arms around what that means in real life? There are lots of ways to translate that into hard dollars.

Big successful corporations pay less income tax than ever. Corporate regulatory reports dribbling out for 2018 show that in the first year after the Donald Trump tax cut, a whole bunch of Fortune 500 companies — Amazon, Goodyear, GM, Netflix, U.S. Steel and Halliburton among them — owed no income tax or only a tiny amount, or are due refunds. Amazon is claiming a $129 million refund on $11.2 billion in profits. GM reported an $11.8 billion profit, and is seeking a refund of $104 million.

Meanwhile, a record 7 million Americans are at least three months behind on their car loan payments, 1 in 5 Americans say they would have trouble paying bills if they miss one paycheck, and young people (ages 25 to 34) earned less in 2017 than they did in 2000.

All that while the 2,220-plus billionaires in the United States and around the world (yes, it’s a problem everywhere) increased their combined wealth in 2018 by some $2.5 billion per day, according to Axios.

Republicans have no plan to address this, other than to cry “socialism” at every big Democratic proposal. Don’t fall for it. The label is cheap. No presidential candidate I know of wants to turn America into a socialist country. And if those critics truly think that socialist-type programs are evil, then they wouldn’t apply for Social Security or use Medicare and Medicaid, since they are all socialist-type programs.

Remember, this is the party and the administration that passed a tax cut that’s made the problem worse. They tried to destroy Obamacare, which would destabilize more people by taking away their health care. They’ve proposed repealing the estate tax to let wealthy people keep even more of their money, while hurting homeowners in places like Long Island by capping the deduction for state and local taxes. They’ve taken steps via the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to make it easier for payday lenders with their high interest rates to trap the poor in an endless cycle of debt. And don’t forget the appalling insensitivity of some members of this administration to the plight of middle-class workers during the recent federal government shutdown.

Democrats, on the other hand, are pulsing with proposals

I want to see the details, and the hard analysis by economists. I don’t know which ones would work better than others, or which I favor. But I want to hear more.

Unless you’re one of the 1 percent, so should you.

 Michael Dobie is a member of the editorial board.

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