Wealth and Our Commonwealth:

Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes

Wealth and Our Commonwealth cover
William H. Gates, Sr. and Chuck Collins (with a foreword by Paul Volcker)
Beacon Press: 2003

Wealth and Our Commonwealth is the quintessential "Man Bites Dog" story of over 1,000 high-net-worth individuals who rose up to protest the repeal of the estate tax and in the process made headlines everywhere last year. Central to the organization of what Newsweek tagged the "billionaire backlash" were two visionaries: Bill Gates, Sr., co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest foundation on earth, and Chuck Collins, cofounder of United for a Fair Economy and Responsible Wealth, and a national expert on economic inequality.

Gates and Collins argue that individual wealth is a product not only of hard work and smart choices but of the society that provides the fertile soil for success. They don't subscribe to the "Great Man" theory of wealth creation but contend that society's investments, such as economic development, education, health care, and property rights protection, all contribute to any individual's good fortune. With the repeal proposed by the Bush administration, we might be facing the future that Teddy Roosevelt feared-where huge fortunes amassed and untaxed would evolve into a dangerous and permanent aristocracy. Repeal would drop federal revenues $850 billion in the decade after repeal, not to mention that the U.S. Treasury estimates that charitable contributions would drop by $6 billion a year.

But what about all those modest families that would lose the farm? Gates and Collins expose the fallacy of this argument, pointing out that this is largely a myth and that the very same lobbies and politicians who are crying "cows" have opposed other legislation that would actually have helped small farmers. Weaving in personal narratives, history, and plenty of solid economic sense, Gates and Collins make a sound and compelling case for tax reform, not repeal.

About the Authors

William H. Gates, Sr. is the co-chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle. He practiced law for 48 years and was a founding partner at Preston, Gates, & Ellis. He is a member of the Board of Regents for the University of Washington and serves as a trustee for a number of Northwest and national organizations including the national board of United Way.

Chuck Collins is the co-founder and Program Director of United for a Fair Economy and Responsible Wealth in Boston. He is co-author of several books about economic inequality including Economic Apartheid in America: A Primer on Economic Inequality and Insecurity.

Paul Volcker is the Former Federal Reserve Chairman.

All of the authors' proceeds from the sale of this book go to supporting efforts to preserve the estate tax.

Praise for Wealth and Our Commonwealth:

"Proponents of Estate Tax repeal will not welcome this clear explanation of not only the purposes and social benefits of the estate tax, but its long history in America. A must read for all who wish to participate honestly in this debate."
—Bill Joy, Co-founder and chief scientist, Sun Microsystems

"Bill Gates and Chuck Collins provide a clear rationale for retaining the estate tax in this helpful and unselfish analysis."
—Jimmy Carter, Former U.S. President and winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize

"If you doubt whether there are any truly public spirited Americans left, let me introduce Bill Gates Sr. and Chuck Collins. Their new book is worth reading for its fascinating history of the conservative estate tax repeal movement alone. But more than that, Wealth and Our Commonwealth challenges us all, rich and not so rich, to a more strenuous and far-sighted notion of citizenship."
—Barbara Ehrenreich, Author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

"Bill Gates Sr. and Chuck Collins appeal to one of the most treasured and persistent strains in the uniquely American experience. From the days of our Founding Fathers, through Democratic and Republican Administrations, among conservatives and liberals alike, the concept of equality of opportunity and dispersion of wealth and economic power has been a part of the American psyche."
—Paul Volcker, Former chairman of the Federal Reserve

"As this book reminds us, inheritance taxes are not about raising tax revenue. They are about 'What Kind of a Nation Do We Want to Be?' Economics is inevitably a relay race where participants do not start from the same point, but we can limit how large those gaps are. This book gets our thoughts back on the right issues."
—Lester Thurow, Professor of economics and management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of Building Wealth: New Rules for Individuals

"Follow the money and you find out what we truly care about as a nation. In a country where millions of children remain poor, hungry, homeless, uninsured, and poorly educated in the midst of unprecedented prosperity, Wealth and Our Commonwealth provides a thoughtful and much-needed perspective on how earlier generations of Americans have perceived the responsibility of wealth and the choices facing us now. I'm grateful this book is being written."
—Marian Wright Edelman, President and Founder, Children's Defense Fund

"This little book makes an important contribution to the ongoing debate about the estate tax. It presents a concise, well written, thoroughly researched, and logically compelling case for retaining at least some form of this tax. As an excellent primer on the history, mythology, and policy of taxing inherited wealth in the United States, it should be read by all citizens, whether or not their estates will be large enough to be subject to the tax. The outcome of the debate on this tax will reveal, to ourselves and to the world, the values on which our democratic republic is based."
—Frank Roosevelt, Professor of Economics, Sarah Lawrence College