Jewish Journal

Getting the Millionaire treatment as part of the 99 percent

by Pini Herman

December 19, 2011 | 2:47 pm

No More Special Taxes or "Donations" to the State For Jews

As a demographer, I often ask people about their earnings and wealth.  We often have a top figure that we hope won’t feel too intrusive, such as $100,000 and over….$250,000 and over. Demographers can’t say very much about Jewish millionaires from Jewish population studies. 

The US Census Data is able to measure some millionaires but it is inappropriate for measuring income inequality because it consistently understates the income of the wealthiest families. To protect the privacy of reporting individuals, the Census “top-codes” income, which means that no one is ever recorded as making more than about $1.1 million in a single year.

The best wealth research is done with IRS income reporting data but very little demographic characteristics information is available. IRS data analysis is where we best know about income inequality and that the wealthy are becoming wealthier and how.

Al Capone was put in prison for evading giving information on his income to the IRS.  In our day, Capone might have given a full disclosure and perhaps avoided paying taxes with good accountants and lawyers, likely Jewish, as we are over-represented in those professions.

I was only able to talk about LA Jewish millionaires because they were surprisingly and conspicuously absent among the millionaires demanding higher taxes on millionaires.

Part of my identity as a Jew is being a good and honest taxpayer. 

I think that fair taxes and equitable distribution are congruent with normative Jewish values.  It’s a right the Jewish Emancipation brought me with the abolishing of specific taxes targeted at Jews. The corollary to that, for me, is that I not seek Jewish exemption or favor in terms of taxation because I am Jewish.

One of my surprises was, being on the receiving end of a reader’s comment, that I should gift the U.S. government my personal resources and leave the inequitable taxation alone.

I was given the millionaire treatment because I was taken aback that my Jewish co-religionist fellow Angelinos were absent from the disproportionately Jewish patriotic millionaire signers of a petition to raise their taxes so our American society would be more equitable in its treatment of citizens. 

The Patriotic millionaires received somewhat the same message from Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) who commented that: “We hear this quite a bit from rich Democrats. ‘Please tax us more,’ they say. Well I know a lot who don’t say that I’ll tell you that. As the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee I feel obligated to inform [the Patriotic Millionaires] that the president and all those rich, liberal democrats who are eager to pay higher taxes can do just that. They can write a check to the IRS and make an extra payment on their tax return to pay down the federal debt. The option is right there at the bottom of their tax return.”

After arguing that higher taxes would benefit the U.S., the reply of the Patriotic Millionaires was nothing more than a millionaire’s pissing contest:

...In the meantime, if Senator Hatch would like to make a personal contribution to the IRS to help his country, we pledge to match his contribution.”

Something in the U.S. has made wealth sacrosanct and taxing this wealth, whether earned or inherited akin to sin.  I can only attribute this to the Protestant ethic where the Elect are rewarded in this life as a sign of the Almighty’s favor and taking away their “wealth” is akin to taking away something given by god. 

In my understanding, Judaism relates to wealth as something to be redistributed on a regular and predictable basis.  The Jewish ethic of voluntary and even socially imposed self-taxation and personal and communal obligations has been the signpost of Jewish vitality.

Its only natural that Jewish millionaires should be over-represented among millionaires lobbying for equitable wealth redistribution.  I just don’t understand why the LA community’s 250-300 Jewish million-dollar-a-year earners are so under-represented.

Pini Herman, PhD. has served as Asst. Research Professor at the University of Southern California Dept. of Geography,  Adjunct Lecturer at the USC School of Social Work,  Research Director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles following Bruce Phillips, PhD. in that position and is immediate past President of the Movable Minyan a lay-lead independent congregation in the 3rd Street area. Currently he is a principal of Phillips and Herman Demographic Research. To email Pini: pini00003@gmail.com To follow Pini on Twitter:

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Bruce Phillips is Professor of Sociology and Jewish Communal Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. He has conducted Jewish population...

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