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Should the rich pay more in taxes? We ask New Yorkers on Wall Street

SALLY HERSHIPS, BYLINE: We've been talking about the so-called billionaire's tax. But what do people think on Wall Street, where some of the richest people in the world make their money? Reporter Sally Herships went there in search of the rich and those who work with them to see what they make of Biden's plan.

HERSHIPS: It only takes three zeros to get you from millionaire to billionaire, and you can make those zeros right here in New York City's financial district. The Stock Exchange is here. Walk down the block, you'll see Tiffany's, shiny black cars with chauffeurs waiting inside.

There's a lot of what I would call - it's not a nice description but finance bros, guys in, you know, navy or black pants with a vest, a zip-up vest, fleece vest, down vest. The area looks a little like a caricature of itself. It should be easy to find rich people to talk to but no.

Are you not earning $25 million a year?

CHRIS DAKIS: No. As of right now, I'm not.

HERSHIPS: Chris Dakis (ph) is general manager of The Malt House. It's a gastropub nearby. It's still early, so no rich bankers knocking back deal-closing whiskeys yet. An earlier version of Biden's plan called for billionaires to pay more in taxes on their assets, anything from mansions to racehorses. But that idea got nixed.

DAKIS: I think Elon Musk came out and said something about it. Like, oh, if they can do this to me, they're going to come for you. And it's like, they've already been taxing us, bud. What are you talking about?

HERSHIPS: Dakis has tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt. Part of the president's plan would put extra tax dollars from the wealthy towards higher education, like Pell Grants.

Yeah, and it looks like the plan right now is calling for a 15% minimum tax on reported profits of large corporations.

DAKIS: All for it. Let's do it.

HERSHIPS: A few blocks south, Sandrine Marlier (ph) is standing outside another restaurant. She's holding onto her cellphone, wearing a fawn-colored suede jacket. She works as a model and a life coach and looks very put together. But Marlier says the pandemic has been tough for her.

SANDRINE MARLIER: The fashion industry has been so greatly affected. It's been really hard for freelancers. I'm going to apply for a grant, something I never thought I would be doing 'cause I was doing well.

HERSHIPS: In the before times, Marlier says she made $250,000 a year. She wants to see more government spending on education.

MARLIER: I'm a mom. My girl is 5 1/2. She's in pre-K. Like, the future is kids. They deserve health care. They deserve decent at least education. So the money has to come from somewhere.

HERSHIPS: So why not the rich? In the meantime, Marlier's got work to do. She's waiting for a client.

MARLIER: He's calling right now (laughter). We're going to talk business, make some plans, change the world.

HERSHIPS: Around the corner, Ozgun Saran is chatting with a friend. She's standing in front of 60 Wall Street, wearing sparkly earrings. Under the current version of the bill, she would not have to pay extra taxes.

OZGUN SARAN: I do not fall into those categories currently, so hey, let's tax them (laughter).

HERSHIPS: Do you hope to get there one day?

SARAN: I'm close to it but not there yet (laughter).

HERSHIPS: Saran may actually have a shot at becoming a multimillionaire.

What industry do you work in or what...

SARAN: In banking.

HERSHIPS: In banking. OK. So there's a chance. You have a chance. I'm in public radio.

SARAN: Yeah, you don't, really.

HERSHIPS: Saran says her rich friends and colleagues are not happy about the idea of paying more.

SARAN: And, you know, at that stage, if you're so rich, does it really matter, you know?

HERSHIPS: Do you say that to them?

SARAN: No (laughter). Oops.

HERSHIPS: Saran says if she makes it, she'll probably leave the country to avoid paying taxes.

Sally Herships, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE HIT CREW SONG, "FOR THE LOVE OF MONEY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sally Herships

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