Sharing Our Stories for the Common Good

Libbey Goldberg (no relation) wrote the piece below as an op-ed for Wealth for the Common Good, to help influence current public debates about taxes. I think it’s a great example of how we can use our stories about wealth and privilege as a part of larger campaigns.
May we all thrive
by Libbey Goldberg

If all of us are to thrive in the United States, we need accountability and support from our public systems of education, health, and transportation —the very systems that we invest our hard-earned tax dollars in.
Unfortunately, the 2001 Bush-era tax cuts gave $700 billion in breaks over eight years to those with annual incomes more than $250,000. The government borrowed money to make these tax cuts possible.
These cuts are due to expire at the end of 2010, but Congress is considering a proposal that would extend them. I come from a family that will pay more if the cuts expire, and I’m urging our lawmakers and President Obama to allow let this happen. We can’t allow these irresponsible tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans continue.
If restored, these taxes could bring in an estimated $45 billion in annual revenue. That is money that could be far better spent on investments in our schools, infrastructure, research institutions and social services.
The story that I was told about how my family accumulated its wealth is a common one: “My grandfather grew up poor, the son of produce peddlers, Jewish refugees from Poland. He made his own fortune through sheer will, hard-work, shrewd business sense and intelligence.”
I know that this story is in large part true, but there are gaping holes. The truth is that my grandfather would never have achieved his success without the public education system, not to mention his white skin privilege, albeit Jewish. He would never have achieved this success without the community of Jewish professionals who had also depended on public infrastructure for their success. Attending the University of Texas opened all the doors to upward class mobility for my Papa Billy.
By allowing our public institutions to wither away without proper funding, we are closing the door for others to achieve success. The idea of the American Dream, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, is always an incomplete story.
Those of us who have disproportionately benefited from public institutions have a special responsibility to make sure that others can also benefit. Unless all of us are thriving, none of us is truly thriving. It is immoral and short sighted for wealthy families to evade paying their share of taxes so that their wealth accumulates more and more, being passed on through the generations. For this reason, I also urge Congress to restore the estate tax, which is suspended for the duration of this year, thanks to a 2001 Bush administration maneuver.
The wealth that I inherited is supposed to be “just for me,” according to my father. I see it differently. In order to take care of myself, I must also take care of my community. By investing in public institutions and community organizations, I am helping to create a society where everyone has enough, not just a select elite.
May we all thrive.
Libbey Goldberg is a chef and social justice activist living in Oakland, California.
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Interested in sharing your story publicly? Contact me at [email protected].