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Tax the rich: Should millionaires really pay more?

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Ms. Ford wore a pale blue T-shirt that said "Tax the rich: You realize they're not 'creating jobs' with their tax breaks, right?" She hawked buttons and bumper stickers that reiterated her theme for $3 apiece. ("I'm not here to profit," she added. "I'm selling these at cost.")

Passersby were bemused. "It seems like a friendly protest," Daniel Koppers, a businessman visiting from Munich, Germany, said with a shrug. "If this was happening in Germany, something would be burning."

Others, less tolerant and perhaps immune to irony, yelled insults like "Get a job!" Youth unemployment, it should be noted, hit 18 percent this summer.

Americans don't typically take to the streets to talk taxes, but these are strange times. A month before the demonstrations began, The New York Times published a now-famous editorial by billionaire investor Warren Buffett titled "Stop Coddling the Super-Rich," which favored raising taxes on the wealthy.

Not everyone liked it. Even some who agreed with Mr. Buffett thought that his championing the issue was symptomatic of the same inequality he sought to repair. "We don't need a rich person to tell us," McFarlane, the protester and former naval seaman, retorted. "I resent that just by being rich you can get your voice heard in ways other people can't."

As the economy continues to wilt, voices on all sides are getting louder and more aggressive. And concerns over taxation – a topic perennially debated among pundits, legislators, and economists, and simply griped about by everyone else each April – are spilling into mainstream America.

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