When my son first got his paycheck, he saw that the government had taken some money. Right away, he started complaining about how the government was taking his money. I talked to him and told him that taxes are how we pay for things like roads and bridges and hospitals and schools, which benefit everyone. If we want these things, then we need to pay for them together with our taxes.
But when Americans talk about taxes, they don’t usually say that the taxes are for things everyone has. They say it’s what you need to pay if you do something wrong. I think this is bad because it makes setting tax policy more difficult.
There is a lot of wealth but not enough jobs to keep up with it. If you tax wealthy people, they might have more money to spend on jobs that people need. Capital gains taxes favor people who invest in properties and hold on to their appreciated assets. This can make the market less liquid. A wealth tax would encourage investors to take more risks and be more innovative, making the economy more productive. Finally, much of the state’s infrastructure is designed to protect property rights; this directly benefits wealthy people because they have money. So it’s only fair for them to pay a wealth tax that is proportional to their wealth.
There are arguments for this, but there are also arguments against it. For example, valuing assets can be difficult. People might think that you are not worth much money when they see your brand name, but other people will disagree. It would be hard to know what the IRS would think of the Trump Organisation in a world where it all depends on how much money (if any) Donald Trump has as his brand value. And this decision could easily end up being very contested and even politicized.
A wealth tax does not necessarily make money more liquid. It might do the opposite by making people put their money into difficult-to-value private assets instead. That means it would be less transparent, and there would be less opportunity for ordinary investors to participate in its gains. All in all, a wealth tax usually doesn’t generate as much revenue as it is projected to, and the return relative to the costs of collecting it is particularly low. This is one reason why most European countries have largely eliminated them after having had them for a while.
This is an argument against using wealth taxes to fund social welfare. You should find more dependable sources of money, but some people like the idea of wealth taxes because it is popular with Democrats. The extreme differences in wealth between the rich and the poor are really big. Many people are angry about this. A wealth tax is an effort to raise some money from the rich, which isn’t fair. It also tells them that they cannot keep living like this; it will not be allowed.
Democrats and Republicans both want to make it difficult for each other. Democrats are trying to tax rich people with taxes, like the new state and local taxes on property in states run by Democrats. And Republicans are taxing universities with endowment funds.
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There are reasons to support these taxes. There is a way to argue that they are not just another form of concentrated wealth, but the intent is about punishing those who do not support the Republican Party. It can be difficult because Democrats want to reverse all of these tax increases.
In the U.S., we already depend more on property taxes than other countries. We depend more on income taxes too. Our overall tax is lower because we don’t have a VAT tax, which taxes consumption and not wealth or income. VATs are good because they are efficient and broad-based. But the taxes are also regressive because wealthy people have a smaller percentage of their income to spend than poorer people or middle-class people. VATs bring in a lot of tax money, but instead of taxing other people’s money, they take it from everyone’s money.
If we think of taxes regarding who else can be made to pay, it makes it difficult to talk about things like the VAT. This is because everyone needs to contribute. If you want 12 weeks of paid parental leave, for example, you need a tax system that has fairness, progressiveness, and efficiency.
We can have arguments about the best way to do things. But it would be more public-spirited and better for everyone if we think of taxes as a way to help many people instead of punishing a few people.