Wealth tax

Wealth tax

A wealth tax is generally conceived of as a levy based on the aggregate value of all household holdings actually accumulated as purchasing power stock (rather than flow), including owner-occupied housing; cash, bank deposits, money funds, and savings in insurance and pension plans; investment in real estate and unincorporated businesses; and corporate stock, financial securities, and personal trusts.[1]


Existing net wealth/worth taxes

  •  France: A progressive rate from 0 to 1.8% of net assets. In 2006 out of €287 billion "general government" receipts, €3.68 billion was collected as wealth tax. See Solidarity tax on wealth.
  •  Switzerland: A progressive wealth tax with a maximum of around 1.5% may be levied on net assets.[2] The exact amount varies between cantons.
  •  Liechtenstein
  •  Netherlands: Interest income is taxed like a wealth tax, i.e. a fixed 30% out of an assumed yield of 4% is a rate of 1.2%. See Income tax in the Netherlands.
  •  Norway: Up to 0.7% (municipal) and 0.4% (national) a total of 1,1% levied on net assets exceeding NOK. 700,000.
  •  India: Wealth tax is 1% on wealth exceeding Rs 30,00,000. However, non-residents returning to India are given exemption for seven years.


Some governments require declaration of the tax payer's balance sheet (assets and liabilities), and from that ask for a tax on net worth (assets minus liabilities), as a percentage of the net worth, or a percentage of the net worth exceeding a certain level. The tax is in place for both "natural" and in some cases legal "persons".

In France, the net worth tax on "natural persons" is called the "solidarity tax on wealth". In other places, the tax may be called, or be known as, a "Capital Tax", an "Equity Tax", a "Net Worth Tax", a "Net Wealth Tax", or just a "Wealth Tax".

Some European countries have abandoned this kind of tax in the recent years: Austria, Denmark, Germany (1997), Sweden (2007), and Spain (2008). On January 2006, wealth tax was abolished in Finland, Iceland and Luxembourg. In other countries, like Belgium or Great Britain, no tax of this type has ever existed, although the Window Tax of 1696 was based on a similar concept.

Property tax

In the United States, property taxes are annual taxes on the market value of real estate (ranging from about 0.4% in Alabama to 4% in New Hampshire) assessed both locally and by state governments to pay for local schools, as well as other services and infrastructure of various kinds. Local jurisdictions rely upon property taxes because real estate cannot be moved out of a jurisdiction, whereas paper wealth, income, etc. are more easily moved to other localities where they may be taxed less or not at all.

Over time, the property taxes add up significantly, such that over a generation of 25 years, a family may pay, with annual increases for inflation, up to 50% of a property's market value in taxes (though over the same period of time, the land value of the family's home could have increased substantially as well). Heavy property taxation and especially sudden, large increases in appraised valuations caused by infrequent or inaccurate appraisals are major causes of local political discontent in jurisdictions throughout the United States and in other countries (see California's Proposition 13).

Because property taxes have often been labeled unfair (other assets such as CDs, equities, or partnerships are taxed rarely, if at all), some properties, such as certain farms or forest land, may have reduced valuations. However, unlike the value of most other assets, the value of land is largely a function of government spending on services and infrastructure (a relationship demonstrated by economists in the Henry George Theorem). This relationship argues that the land value portion of property taxes, at least, satisfies the "beneficiary pay" criterion of tax fairness.

Non-profit (especially church) and government-owned properties are often exempt from property taxes.

Arguments in favor

There are four lines of argument in favor of a tax based on household wealth. The claims are that such a wealth tax improves the fairness of most tax systems, effectively raises government revenue, can further economic growth, and could have desirable secondary, social effects by reducing economic inequality.

Fairness: According to the "beneficiary pay" criterion of tax fairness, a tax on property rights can be seen as a use fee. Specifically, protection of property rights is a primary purpose of government. Holders of property rights enjoy the existence of government more than do those who hold no property rights. Coupled with market-driven assessment (bids in escrow, for example) and deferment of tax liability at interest equal to long term government debt rates, the "beneficiary pay" criterion of "fairness" contrasts with the "ability to pay" criterion of "fairness" which is more expedient than essentially reciprocal.

Revenue: In 1999, Donald Trump proposed a once off 14.25% wealth tax on the net worth of individuals and trusts worth $10 million or more. Trump claimed that this would generate $5.7 trillion in new taxes, which could be used to eliminate the national debt.[3]

Economic Growth: A wealth tax that decreases other tax burdens, such as income, capital gains, sales, value added and inheritance, increases the time horizon for investment and can increase the return on investments over that time. The increased time horizon of investment results from the competition for investment between the risk free asset of modern portfolio theory, and commercial assets. The higher return on investment results from the removal of taxes on profits. More economic equality has been correlated with higher levels of innovation.[4]

Social Effects: By unburdening the poor and middle class of taxation, while stimulating investment in commercial assets that create demand for labor, more financial resources in the hands of the poor and middle class would reduce their reliance on government delivery of social goods, such as improved educational opportunities for their children. This would promote social mobility, mean more citizens reach their full potential of productivity, and so improve the economy. Increased government revenue from a wealth tax could be used to promote public investment in services like education, basic science research, and transportation infrastructure, which in turn improve economic efficiency. Increased government revenue from a wealth tax coupled with restrained government spending would reduce government borrowing and so free more credit for the private sector to promote business. A strong, steadily growing economy could in turn increase tax revenues further, allowing for more deficit reduction, and so on in a virtuous cycle.[5]

Arguments against

A 2006 article in The Washington Post titled "Old Money, New Money Flee France and Its Wealth Tax" pointed out some of the harm caused by France's wealth tax. The article gave examples of how the tax caused capital flight, brain drain, loss of jobs, and, ultimately, a net loss in tax revenue. Among other things, the article stated, "Eric Pichet, author of a French tax guide, estimates the wealth tax earns the government about $2.6 billion a year but has cost the country more than $125 billion in capital flight since 1998."[6]

There are several major flaws in a wealth tax system. First, valuation of illiquid assets including real estate, privately held businesses, antiques, art etc can be purely arbitrary. Secondly, wealth valuation fluctuates in time due primarily to the money supply fluctuations. This creates a moral hazard whereby governments can use inflation as a direct means of raising revenue. Finally, elderly citizens whose income is much smaller than their non-revenue generating assets may find it near impossible to pay their taxes without continued asset liquidation.

Due to valuation and accounting difficulties, wealth taxes systems have high management costs, for both the taxpayer and the administrating authorities, compared to other taxes. Per one study in the Netherlands the aggregated cost of the tax’s yield was roughly five times that of income tax.[7]

See also


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