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.

Robert Francis Kennedy Jr. walks down a hallway during a recess at the Monsanto trial held at the Superior Court of California in San Francisco, California, U.S., July 09, 2018. Picture taken July 09, 2018. Josh Edelson/Pool via Reuters
Robert Francis Kennedy Jr. walks down a hallway during a recess at the Monsanto trial held at the Superior Court of California in San Francisco, California, U.S., July 09, 2018. Picture taken July 09, 2018. Josh Edelson/Pool via Reuters

Kennedy — who’s been accused of spreading misinformation about the supposed danger of 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.”

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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