He came to the United States from the Greek island of Nisyros 70 years ago when he was six months old as an immigrant – yet supports a border wall to keep out other immigrants – but billionaire New York businessman John Catsimatidis said he is an economic patriot because his businesses employ thousands of people and he donates much of his money to charity.
That would be undermined, he said in a joint op-ed in the Wall Street Journal with Bernie Marcus, retired co-founder of The Home Depot, if America’s rich were forced to pay more taxes – that, they said, would take money out of their pockets needed to reinvest in their businesses, hire more people and help the disadvantaged through their philanthropy.
Catsimatidis, who ran unsuccessfully for New York Mayor as a Republican but supports Democrats too – yet blames politicians for not knowing how to allocate tax resources – is Honorary Chairman of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity and owner of Red Apple Group.
He and Marcus, who is also Chairman of the Marcus Foundation and the Job Creators Network, said they know better than government how to use their wealth.
Their piece, Making Money is a Patriotic Act, acknowledged their great good fortune in being able to become fabulously wealthy thanks to the American Dream they realized but said, “These days getting rich off a profitable business is regarded as almost sinister.”
“But we have nothing to apologize for, and we don’t think the government should have more of our profits,” they wrote.
Why? “We oppose higher taxes on ‘the rich’ for two practical reasons. First, the evidence is clear that higher tax rates would hurt the global competitiveness of the American economy, and thus hurt all Americans,” they said in defending how they operate and the riches they made.
They said they believe in a well-funded government and that they pay their fair share and more, but don’t want to be overtaxed just because of how much money they’ve made by taking risks and achieving through their ventures.
As an example of how they said they’ve brought more than just revenues to their country they pointed out that one – Catsimatidis – lives in New York which has the highest income taxes in the country but is struggling, and the other – Marcus – lives in Florida, which has no state income tax and is flourishing.
“More important, we know we can spend our dollars more wisely, and in ways that benefit our communities and our country, than politicians can,” they said, and that they know better how money should benefit people.
“The businesses we created have employed hundreds of thousands of Americans. Two of the firms we own we purchased in bankruptcy court, saving more than 5,000 jobs. Our companies have paid tens of billions of dollars in wages and contributed hundreds of billions to U.S. gross domestic product,” the wrote.
They added that their businesses “made the tens of millions of Americans who use our products and services better off. The Home Depot lowered hardware prices across the country. Customers chose us because we offered what they wanted at a price they were willing to pay. That’s the win-win miracle of the free market.”
Catsimatidis and Marcus said most of the money they’ve made wasn’t for personal gain but put back into their businesses, which mostly have lower-paying positions – and that the wealth they gained has also benefited the charities they support, from the American Cancer Society to the Salvation Army as well as museums, operas, veterans programs, homeless centers, and private schools in inner-cities for at-risk students, donating more than $2 billion.
“Our businesses in particular are our legacies, and our greatest passion is to ensure that they keep growing and innovating for decades beyond our lifetimes. Every additional dollar the government takes from us is a dollar less for this critical process of expanding America’s wealth and job-creating businesses,” they wrote.
“When we look at the way government spends its money, we are frustrated by the waste and the ineffectiveness of so many of its programs, however well-intentioned,” they added, saying the projects they fund are more efficient and have helped cure diseases too.
They said they were grateful to have been able to live in America and make their fortune through free enterprise and noted, “both of us are sons of immigrants who came to these shores with almost nothing.”
Catsimatidis’ father had been a lighthouse operator in Greece but worked as a busboy in New York and his son made it the old-fashioned way in the United States: hard work, vision, and education, although he left New York University eight credits short of graduating.
“We had bold plans, we took big risks, and we built and invested in highly successful made-in-America businesses,” they added, saying what hasn’t been fixed in America bothers them still: poor schools, single parent homes, discrimination, and broken and dangerous communities.
They concluded: “Our patriotism is measured not in how much we pay in taxes – which is a lot – but in the businesses and the wealth and the jobs we create. We wish Washington would focus on advancing policies that will allow millions of others to experience the American Dream – as we have.”