Meet the millionaires who want to be taxed to pay for the coronavirus

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Dozens of millionaires from the U.S. and six other countries have a message for their governments: “Tax us. Tax us. Tax us.”

Calling themselves the Millionaires for Humanity, more than 80 wealthy individuals — including Walt Disney Co. heiress Abigail Disney, former BlackRock Inc. managing director Morris Pearl, and Danish-Iranian entrepreneur Djaffar Shalchi — are petitioning for higher taxes on the rich to help pay for the billions in new government programs made necessary by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Today, we, the undersigned millionaires and billionaires, ask our governments to raise taxes on people like us. Immediately. Substantially. Permanently,” according to the open letter. “We are not restocking grocery store shelves or delivering food door to door. But we do have money, lots of it. Money that is desperately needed now.”

Their missive, which comes ahead of this weekend’s Group of 20 meeting, isn’t the first such appeal. Even before the pandemic upended public finances, a cohort of 200 or so wealthy people calling themselves the Patriotic Millionaires — a group that include Disney and Pearl — were pressing for a more progressive tax system.

Some Patriotic Millionaires say they signed up because they feel a little guilty about being so rich when they were “born on third base.” Others find a sense of community in the group. Of the millionaires and billionaires that make up the group, Disney, whose grandfather and great-uncle founded Walt Disney Co., stands out for her family name and advocacy. She’s called for changes to pay at the company and has described the compensation package for Bob Iger, chief executive until this year, “insane.”

Critics of the group point out that the members of the group take advantage of the loopholes they’re trying to close. They also say they could willingly pay more tax.

“There are 10 to 12 million millionaires in this country and there are only 200 of us so what difference can we make?” said California-based member Karen Seal Stewart in an interview earlier this year.

In their open letter, the Millionaires for Humanity warn that the outbreak could push millions more people into poverty and strain already inadequate health-care systems, staffed largely by underpaid women. Charity isn’t the answer.

“Government leaders must take the responsibility for raising the funds we need and spending them fairly,” according to the letter. “We owe a huge debt to the people working on the front lines of this global battle. Most essential workers are grossly underpaid for the burden they carry.”

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