WATCH: New Documentary and New York Mayor Push for Closing Hedgefund Tax Loophole to Fund Schools
Thursday afternoon, Mayor de Blasio and Brave New Film's Robert Greenwald presented a short film, Hedge Fund Billionaires vs. Teachers, that highlights the glaring inequalities in our tax structure and the underfunding of our education system. The hook is simple: the top 25 hedge fund managers make more than all the kindergarten teachers, 150,000, in the country combined. Is this fair? And perhaps more importantly, is this a good way to run a society?
The two men, along with AlterNet contributing editor Lynn Parramore and local kindergarten teacher Lena Lombardi, joined in a Q&A after the film to discusss de Blasio's signature themes of increased taxes on the wealthy and a focus on improving the lives of "working Americans." (Disclosure: Robert Greenwald is on the board of directors of AlterNet's parent organization, Independent Media Institute.)
"When you talk about inequality it's not an abstraction," de Blasio began. "It's not an issue of would we like more equality rather than less. Growing inequality undermines our cohesion as a nation... this nation has been strongest when we've had greater equality."
To illustrate this contrast, the filmmakers and the mayor's Progressive Agenda compared the obscene profits of hedge funds to the underfunding of education and the common practice among teachers of paying out of their own pocket for school supplies. The actual policy being advanced by the mayor is the closing of the carried-interest loophole, a tax law that, according to their website, "essentially gives these one-percenters a much lower tax rate than they should be paying."
"When you go into the teaching profession, you go into it to change lives," Lena Lombardi said. "Not to make money. It has nothing to do with increasing teacher salaries. It has to do with allocating the funds that would be generated from closing the loophole and putting those funds into resources for the schools."
Director Robert Greenwald explained it in terms of simple fairness. "I think in any society one wants to strive for a system in a way that treats not just the individual — sometimes known as 'greed' — but looks at the larger picture. Think about it: Billionaires fighting to keep every nickel, which they don't need. Their children don't need, their great-great-grandchildren won't need, versus where and how that money could be used for the greater good."
The Progressive Agenda, which is paid for by the mayor's privately funded political nonprofit Campaign For One New York, is a policy initiative that's working with, among others, Greenwald's Brave New Films to push for more progressive taxation. Brave New Films is an activist documentary studio best known for its 2004 hit Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism.
Closing the carried-interest loophole is looking increasingly possible. Recently, even GOP candidates Jeb Bush and Donald Trump embraced the idea, as part of the Republican party's alleged "populist" turn. (The rest of Bush's tax plan, it should be noted, is excessively regressive.)
The mayor, who had to leave early because he was taping Seth Meyers, closed by reminding the audience that it's in everyone's best interest, including the rich, to decrease inequality with higher taxes.
"If we're not investing in infrastructure we're actually stymieing our economic possibilities. Because we won't ask the rich to pay their fair share, it's stymieing our growth. There's a literal cause and effect between the wrong kinds of taxation policies and what we're not able to do for the good for everyone."
Watch the segment below: