Tracey Lake used to occupy Wall Street – from the inside.
Formerly a successful stockbroker with Dean Witter (later Morgan Stanley), she remembers the first month she made $50,000. “I was ecstatic,” she recalls. “From a very early age I was fascinated by business and the stock market, and I was willing to turn cartwheels to make big money.” But not long after scoring that 30-day bonanza, Lake noticed that the thrill was going away. “I realized I would give most of it up to have my life back.”
Still, Lake’s Wall Street success (and an unexpectedly large inheritance) ushered her into the ranks of American millionaires. Now a Seattle real estate developer, Lake spends less of her time attempting to multiply her riches than to get them more heavily taxed. She is an activist member of Responsible Wealth, a national network of over 700 business leaders and wealthy individuals who are in the top five percent of income and wealth in the U.S., and who advocate for “fair taxes and corporate accountability.”
Lake says that she came to this work by dint of what she calls a “dual citizenship” in the American economy. The daughter of a single parent who toiled as a secretary, Lake recalls that she was “a dumpster-diving kid way before it was fashionable. We knew the days that grocery stores would toss the expired milk and cheese; it was a weekly routine for us to visit the back of Winn-Dixie.
“So I was raised with working-class values but now I have membership in an elite, upper-class circle. And that’s why I’d like to have a hand in changing people’s views of wealth. Many people pursue it with no conscience, no sense of obligation. Everything I am and everything I have achieved owes to being lucky enough to be born into a democratic country. When I lived in Honduras while serving in the Peace Corps from 2003 to 2005, I met many people just like me who will never get the chances I’ve been given.
“I have more than most, so I expect to pay more taxes. And I give away a lot of money. But it’s been frustrating to watch the rich get richer over the last fifteen years thanks to the hedge-fund clause and other financial policy decisions that have allowed extremely high-wage earners to pay the lowest possible tax on their earnings. It makes me mad that certain politicians keep harping about lower taxes while the tax on millionaires has not been this low since the 1920s.”
Beyond the issue of simple fairness, Lake is interested in shifting the collective consciousness that has allowed the gap between rich and poor to grow ever wider.
That gap does obvious damage to the poor and middle class, and to America’s economic health as a whole. Based on her own experience, Lake feels that the getting and guarding of excessive wealth also exacts a spiritual cost on its beneficiaries.
“I left Wall Street because I was always walking the tightrope of fear and greed. I faced my clients’ investment in these forces daily, but what surprised me was watching my own fear and greed grow with each passing month, right along with the industry. Everyone who pursues wealth without fairness contributes to this predicament. When our interest in our own spiritual power exceeds our obsession with wealth, then things will start to change.”