A new open letter signed by a grab-bag of ultra-wealthy Americans calls for a wealth tax on the country’s richest.
The billionaire signatories point out some significant challenges, but fail to make their case effectively. For one, any taxpaying citizen is free to give as much money to Washington each year as they please. They should start there; then we can talk.
“America has a moral, ethical and economic responsibility to tax our wealth more,” write Abigail Disney, Chris Hughes, George Soros, and the rest of the gang. “A wealth tax could help address the climate crisis, improve the economy, improve health outcomes, fairly create opportunity, and strengthen our democratic freedoms.”
These are weak claims. The authors concede that such a tax could also fail to address the issues they raise, many of which are not even policy or political problems but vague values that distract from real underlying flaws.
The best way to fix health care, for instance, is by reforming the broken system to lower cost and increase choice, not by simply pouring more money the current system. And if improving the economy and creating opportunities is the goal, the signatories are likelier to do more good by investing in private sector ventures instead of a bloated and inefficient federal government.
Likewise, the best way to strengthen our freedoms is by chipping away at crony corporatism, not by taxing individuals more aggressively. In fact, the billionaires asking for more taxes in lieu of simply ponying up more don’t say a peep about attacking the outsize power of businesses that distort and destroy markets by cozying up with Washington and capturing regulations.
Although they complain that the wealthy have too much political influence, they support using concentrated government power to narrow Americans’ choices, impose and enforce controls on their values and speech, and restrict financial markets and investment opportunities. Hilariously, one of the signatories insisting that taxes will weaken unaccountable elites is listed as Anonymous.
The letter tries to argue that a wealth tax should be embraced because we already have one, for the not so rich. “Millions of middle-income Americans already pay a wealth tax each year in the form of property taxes on their primary form of wealth–their home,” it says. Left unsaid is that this tax is among the most invasive and punitive of those ordinary Americans face — one that would send voters into the streets with pitchforks were it not for the mortgage interest tax deduction.
Finally, and most tellingly, the signatories insist over and again that they should pay more so society can be shaped in the way they want. Their stated goals of increased spending on alternative energy, universal child care, student debt mitigation, and lower taxes for those who already pay the lowest taxes are not broadly shared and could do little to increase the economic health they say they want.
It’s a lot of big, airy talk about big solutions that are untested, divisive, and even implausible — in short, the kinds of things that should only make it into policy after rigorous debate and voting, and sometimes not even then. If the ultra-rich want to try to tip the scales by putting their money where their mouth is, they’re free to do so every time they file their taxes.
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