"I've been lucky enough to live in Silicon Valley for a while, and work for a small start-up company down the street here that did quite well. So I'm unemployed by choice," former Google Director of Consumer Marketing and Brand Management Doug Edwards told President Obama at a town hall in Mountain View, Calif., last month.
"My question is: Would you please raise my taxes," Edwards asked.
It's not every day that an American citizen asks the president to raise his taxes. But Edwards is not just any American. He is one of more than 100 "Patriotic Millionaires" who have signed a petition asking the federal government to "raise our taxes."
Unfortunately, it is not just their taxes that they want raised. Every millionaire who has signed the Patriotic Millionaires petition is perfectly free to donate to the United States Treasury at any time.
They can even designate which government program or services they want their money to help fund. In 2010, about $316 million was given to the federal government voluntarily.
Almost $55 million was given to the National Science Foundation. About $56 million was given to the National Institutes of Health. These are examples of real patriotic Americans putting their money where their mouths are by giving more than is legally required by the federal government.
But that is not what Edwards and his supposedly Patriotic Millionaires want to do. They want to use the federal government to force other millionaires to give more of their money for other people's priorities.
Here is how Edwards told Obama he would like his extra taxes spent: "I would very much like the country to continue to invest in things like Pell Grants and infrastructure, and job training programs, that made it possible for me to get to where I am."
What, exactly, is stopping Edwards from investing his own money in any of these things? Take education, for example. Just six miles down the road from the Computer History Museum where Edwards asked for higher taxes to pay for more Pell Grants, is the East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy.
Operated by Aspire Public Schools, 93 percent of this charter high school's students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. And of the 21 seniors in its inaugural 2010 graduating class (the school now has 160 students), all were the first in their families to go to college.
The East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy is a nonprofit that eagerly accepts donations so it can expand the number of first-generation students it sends to college. If Edwards wants to invest in education to make it possible others to be successful like him, the East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy is a great place to start.
And maybe Edwards does donate to the Phoenix Academy, or some other educational nonprofit. We don't know if he does because he has refused to talk to reporters since his town hall question.
But thanks to the Center for Responsive Politics, we do know that Edwards has made substantial investments in the Democratic Party. Since 2000, Edwards has voluntarily given almost $300,000 to Democrats. Democrats who, if elected, would take more of other people's money involuntarily.
"The U.S. government is not a charity. Its how we work together to achieve national aims," Garrett Gruener says in a Patriotic Millionaire video. This is half-right.
The federal government is not a charity. But neither is it the only way we as a society can work together. Local governments, nonprofits, even corporations, are all examples of people working together to achieve goals ... all without coercion from the federal government. Instead of asking Obama to take more of other people's money, maybe Edwards should ask them to give it voluntarily.