What Are the Pros and Cons of a Wealth Tax?

Definition of a Wealth Tax

A wealth tax is a percentage tax levied on the total net worth of an individual, as opposed to an income tax, which is calculated on the total money made during the year. For example, if a person owns $100 million in total real estate, investments, and personal property and earns $5 million per year in income, the wealth tax would be levied on the $100 million, the income tax would be charged against the $5 million. Prominent democrats such as Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have advocated for the creation of a wealth tax above a certain threshold, such as $50 million net worth.

Pros – Arguments For a Wealth Tax

  1. The wealthiest one percent own about half the wealth in the world, which isn’t fair to the people who struggle to survive and pay the bills. The amount owned by the richest grows every year since they have the money to invest & compound their wealth.
  2. Money is needed to provide vital services such as health care, education, infrastructure, and defense. The U.S. has endless investment needs if it is to remain the economically strong, stable nation that it is.
  3. Too much wealth concentrated in a few people has created an aristocracy that wields too much unelected power, which erodes our freedom and democracy. The rich have the ability to direct large campaign contributions to politicians that will keep policies on the books that protect their wealth rather than help the nation. On top of their control of the government, many wealthy individuals have direct or indirect control over the media. For example, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos owns perhaps the most influential newspaper in the country, the Washington Post. Billionaire leftists Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Jack Dorsey have ultimate control over search and social media companies, which are the largest filters of information in existence today.
  4. It could spur wealthy people to spend or give away money sooner to avoid getting hit with the tax. Wealthy individuals will normally do everything they can to avoid paying taxes. For example, Warren Buffett hasn’t sold tens of billions of stock for decades simply because he doesn’t want to pay the capital gain taxes. So it stands to reason that many will start passing money to heirs, setting up charitable trusts, giving their employees bonuses, or taking other steps to avoid paying the taxes.
  5. The U.S. national debt is already at $22 trillion as of the time of this article and is currently adding $1 trillion per year. More revenue is needed to avert a debt crisis. The debt already far exceeds GDP and is growing at an unsustainable rate. In a time of very low rates, the annual interest alone is $325 billion. Unfortunately, most of the budget is spent on non-discretionary items like entitlements, so the ability to cut costs is limited with few politicians having the political courage to propose changes to the programs.

Cons – Arguments Against a Wealth Tax

  1. We already have a wealth tax — the inheritance tax. Wealthy Americans already must pay from 40-56% of their estate to the government upon their death, depending on their state of residence.
  2. It’s near impossible to collect the wealth tax since rich people tax advantage of tax loopholes or move their fortunes overseas. It doesn’t matter how high the tax rate if the government can’t collect it. Rich people have armies of accountants & lawyers to find every tax loophole in the books. They can redo ownership structures to avoid the tax thresholds, or if they get frustrated enough, simply renounce their American citizenship and move overseas, taking all their wealth with them.
  3. Annual tax returns would be ridiculously long and complex, as every year would require full appraisals of all real estate, businesses, investments, and personal belongings. Think how complex wills & estates are when a person dies. Every asset must be accounted for and appraised. Now imagine having to do that process every year. Higher income individuals may have hundreds of businesses & investments. Think how hard it would be to value every piece of personal property. How valuable is your big screen TV, baseball card collection, snowmobile, time share, laptop, clothes, and so on? Annual tax returns could end up being thousands of pages, even for people that don’t meet the wealth tax threshold.
  4. Americans are already taxed at almost every level — income tax, property tax, sales tax, social security tax, dividend tax, gas tax, death tax, and on and on. How many more taxes must Americans pay? They pay when they earn money, spend, invest, own property, give gifts, and even when they die. Here’s a list of 75 taxes already paid by American citizens.
  5. Rich, successfully people are far better investors and allocators of resources than government; you’re taking money away that could be used for investing, starting new businesses, and paying employees. Economics is all about allocation of scarce resources. The private sector is far more efficient at spending and investing. If not, private individuals can go bankrupt. Government can continue wasting money indefinitely. Federal Express and UPS are immensely profitable, while the U.S. Post Office regularly loses money and constantly needs taxpayer bailouts for survival.
  6. Rich people usually give away their fortunes to charity during their lifetimes or upon their death. Despite their portrayal in the media, most wealthy individuals give away their fortunes. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have given away tens of billions; plus, they’ve convinced many other billionaires to pledge at least half their fortunes to charity. Rich people are usually great investors, and if they have a lifetime to use their skills, they can give away much more. Warren Buffett was only worth around $60 million on his 50th birthday. He’s currently worth $84 billion despite already giving away a bulk of his fortune. A wealth tax would have prevented him from getting anywhere near that amount and deprived all those charities.
  7. Individuals may have to sell investments or portions of their businesses to pay the taxes. Rich people don’t become wealthy by keeping their money in cash. They usually invest in businesses, stock, real estate, etc.; a wealth tax may force them to sell a portion annually to pay. For example, a 3% tax on someone worth $1 billion would be $30 million. A sole proprietorship or partnership may have to sell off a store or division simply to pay the tax.
  8. Politicians always disguise numerous exceptions & loopholes in 1000+ page bills to protect their campaign contributors and friends. Did you ever wonder why even the most simple new laws passed by the U.S. Congress amount to thousands of pages? The reason is that mountains of complex legalese are used to disguise loopholes and political kickbacks. Google “obamacare louisiana purchase and cornhusker kickback” for examples of this corrupt process. Expect the same with a wealth tax that will certainly affect the richest and most powerful people in the world.
  9. It punishes people who have become educated, worked hard, saved money, and invested. A wealth tax effectively punishes people who have done everything right. Behavior that achieves the American dream shouldn’t be punished. Billionaire founders of Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon, etc. have changed the world with their efforts.
  10. It is anti-American and anti-freedom as it amounts to essentially stealing wealth from citizens. It is fundamentally against everything American stands for to rob from private citizens. The American Revolution was launched to fight an overly oppressive government with stifling taxes. Communist, Nazi, and other totalitarian governments have exhibited the exact type of behavior advocated by proponents of the wealth tax.
  11. Almost all new taxes start out as a “tax on the rich” but are progressively lowered over time to hit lower income levels. If the U.S. confiscated 100 percent of all billionaire wealth in America, it would only fund the government at current expenditure levels for only 8 months. Obviously, a lot more money is needed to fund pie-in-the-sky ideas like “free” education and health care for all. Almost every tax is initially sold as a tax on the rich. However, complex 1000+ page bills are usually crafted to tax all levels of income in sneaky ways, for example, by not indexing the tax brackets for inflation, as was done with the Alternative Minimum Tax.
  12. More taxes would discourage wealthy foreigners from moving to or investing in the United States. Why would a foreign billionaire even consider becoming an American citizen if the government plans to steal a portion of their wealth every year? By not moving here, it means all their potential investment & consumption spending (along with the associated tax revenues) would be lost.
  13. Tax revenue in other areas (for example business, investment, and sales taxes) would decrease as that money would be taken out of the economy. If you take money away from the wealthy, there is less money to spend and invest. Thus, capital gain taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, and other revenue sources will slowly decrease every year.
  14. A wealth tax violates the U.S. Constitution. Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution states, “No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.” In other words, the law would likely be ruled unconstitutional, especially with a conservative-leaning Supreme Court. Even an income tax was ruled unconstitutional until the 16th Amendment was passed.

Recommended Solution

  • Lower the exemption threshold of the inheritance tax ($5.6 million per individual as of the time of this writing).
  • Remove loopholes that allow rich to shield the majority of stock and real estate appreciation from taxes upon transfer to heirs.
  • Impose harsher penalties for wealthy citizens that hide money offshore.
  • Toss the idea of an additional “wealth tax” in the trash heap.

Other Links That May Interest You

Why Europeans Axed Wealth Tax – Chris Edwards
75 Types of Taxes You Pay the Government
10 Reasons Why Raising Tax Rates Decrease Total Revenue (and Vice Versa)
Taxes Meme Gallery
11 Reasons Government is Less Efficient Than the Private Sector


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Written by: Joe Messerli
Last Modified: 2/11/2019

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