Robert Kennedy Jr: 'We've destroyed the middle class'

In a newly released interview with Yahoo Finance, activist and environmental lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr. lamented the widening gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S.

“I definitely think that the gap between rich and poor in this country is much too large, that we've destroyed the middle class, and that the very wealthy people ought to be paying more in taxes and corporations,” Kennedy Jr. told Yahoo Finance’s editor-in-chief, Andy Serwer.

The comment about the wealth gap came in response to a question from Serwer about whether he supported a wealth tax floated by presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). That proposal would place an annual 2% tax on every dollar of net worth a household has above $50 million, with the rate increasing to 6% for every dollar of net worth over $1 billion. 

Kennedy — who’s been accused of spreading misinformation about the supposed danger vaccines, including by his own family members — acknowledged that he didn’t know the details of Warren’s plan before he commented on the wealth gap. That gap does appear to be widening: In September, new data from the Census bureau found the gulf between the wealthiest and poorest Americans was the largest it had been in 50 years.

Kennedy Jr. made the comments during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment. 

For over three decades, Kennedy Jr. served as a chief prosecuting attorney for top environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Riverkeeper, an organization dedicated to the protection of the Hudson river. More recently, Kennedy Jr. has sparked controversy by questioning the safety of vaccines and campaigning against their use.

In his interview with Yahoo Finance, Kennedy did take issue with the position from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that “billionaires shouldn’t exist.”

“I don’t think we should ban billionaires,” he said. “That’s not the way to go about it. We have a 50-year part of our history, which is called the Great Prosperity, when we developed the American middle class, which was the driver of the world economy. It created happiness and quality of life in our country. And during most of that period, there was a 91% on the upper echelon.” 

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Portrait of American politician and US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (1925 - 1968), 1960. (Photo by Photoquest/Getty Images)
SEP 27 1961, 10-5-1961 Kennedy, Robert F. - Individuals. Credit: Denver Post (Denver Post via Getty Images)
Senator John F. Kennedy, front running candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination, stands with his brother and campaign manager Robert Kennedy while in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts.
(Original Caption) 3/16/1968-Washington, DC- In the Senate Caucus Room today, Senator Robert Kennedy announces that he will seek the Democratic presidential nomination. He made the announcement in the same room in which his brother, the then Senator John F. Kennedy, announced candidacy for the Presidency in 1960.
Portrait of American politician US Attorney General (and later New York Senator) Robert F. Kennedy (1925 -1968), early to mid 1960s. (Photo by Weegee(Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 16: December 16, 1960. John Fitzgerald KENNEDY, who has just been elected president of the United States, holds a press conference to announce the nomination of his brother Robert KENNEDY as Attorney General (equivalent to the Minister of Justice in France.) (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) U. S. Senator elect Robert F. Kennedy, had reached the first plateau in what many politicians predicted would be a climb to the presidency. Kennedy, in his first try for an elective office, defeated incumbent Senator Kenneth Keating by about 1/2 million votes. Kennedy told his supporters: 'We started something in 1960 (with the election of his brother John as President), and the vote was an overwhelming mandate to continue.'
Robert F. Kennedy campaigns for his brother, Democratic Presidential candidate Senator John F. Kennedy. He discusses election issues with tailor Isidor Lutnick during a tour of the Bronx.
(Original Caption) Robert Kennedy, brother of the President-elect, is congratulated by Senator John McClellan, (D-Ark.), after his nomination to be Attorney General was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator McClellan and Bob Kennedy worked together as Chairman and Chief Counsel of the old Senate Rackets Committee.
May 1961: American politician Robert F Kennedy (1925 - 1968) talks on the telephone in his office at the Justice Department, Washington, DC. (Photo by New York Times Co./Getty Images)
President Kennedy and his brothers, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and Senator Edward M. Kennedy. White House, outside Oval Office. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Sygma via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Attorney general Robert F. Kennedy testified before the Senate Commerce Committee today on the Administration's civil rights bill. He said he opposed any changes in the bill that would water down the proposed ban on discrimination in public accommodations.
Robert F. Kennedy has confirmed reports that he will resign soon as Chief Counsel for the Senate Labor Rackets Investigating Committee. He is shown at the Rackets Committee hearing today. The younger Kennedy is expected to play a major role in his brother John's campaign to win the 1960 Democratic nomination for President.
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Back in September 2019, Sanders released his “Tax on Extreme Wealth” proposal. The plan would place a 1% tax on the top 0.1% of American households. The tax “would start with a 1 percent tax on net worth above $32 million for a married couple,” according to the release. “That means a married couple with $32.5 million would pay a wealth tax of just $5,000.”

The tax rate would increase to 2% on households with new worth between $50 million and $250 million, 3% on net worth up to $500 million, 4% on new worth up to $1 billion, and so on up to a 8% tax on wealth over $10 billion.

Kennedy Jr. is a member of the famous Kennedy family, and nephew of former president, John F. Kennedy. 

“When my uncle became president, there was a 90% tax on the wealthy in this country,” Kennedy said. “Is that too much? Yeah, that’s probably too much. You need to incentivize people to work hard, smart people to make money.”

He continued: “But at the same time, we need to make sure that we keep the middle class intact and that we don’t want the kind of country, the kind of distribution in wealth they have in Latin America and elsewhere because it causes instability. It causes unhappiness. It causes a lot of fallout, a societal fallout that is not good for anybody.” 

Additional reporting by Max Zahn.

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