Why a Wealth Tax Is a Bad Idea

“Biden isn’t calling his proposal a wealth tax, of course. It’s the “Billionaire Minimum Income Tax,” and it imposes a minimum 20 percent tax on the income of households with more than—oddly—$100 million in wealth. Biden’s proposal is smaller and more pragmatic than the earlier variants from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.)—par for the course with Biden. Most notable is that even with implausibly optimistic estimates of the federal government’s ability to collect, the whole mess is supposed to raise an average of a mere $36 billion per year over the next 10 years.

The University of California, Berkeley, economist and Warren adviser Gabriel Zucman estimated what several billionaires would pay under the plan’s 20 percent tax on unrealized gains in illiquid assets, pinning Jeff Bezos’ bill at $35 billion, Warren Buffett’s at $26 billion, and Jim Walton’s at $7 billion.

Anyone who has been paying the slightest bit of attention to federal spending over the last several years knows that figures that begin with b instead of t are now considered rounding errors. The point of this wealth tax is not to raise revenue. It has two rather different aims.

The first is pure political calculus. A floundering, unpopular president seeks to demonstrate a willingness to punish a small, unpopular class of people. A Reuters/Ipsos poll last year found that nearly two-thirds of respondents agree that the very rich should pay more taxes: 64 percent either strongly or somewhat agreed that “the very rich should contribute an extra share of their total wealth each year to support public programs.””

“The second aim, which has more far-reaching consequences, is to establish the principle that the U.S. government can tax based on wealth at all. If such a tax were to be put into law—and found constitutional by the Supreme Court, which would be no mean feat—it would be the thin end of a very large wedge. Biden’s proposal will spin up the huge bureaucratic, legal, and accounting support systems, public and private, necessary to support the formal tracking of wealth alongside income.

The utility of permitting individuals to accumulate large amounts of money varies from person to person, of course. There are many billionaires whose fortunes are extractive or confiscatory—that is, they have seized a larger slice of an unchanged pie. But in the U.S. in particular, we specialize in billionaires whose fortunes are clearly related to value creation—that is, they have taken a healthy slice of a pie that they also made much larger.

Sanders and others seem determined to conflate these two groups, applying the term oligarchs to, among others, people whose houses have an excessive number of bathrooms, people who build rockets, and people who own Major League Baseball teams.

People do not need to have been wholly self-made to somehow deserve to keep their money. No billionaire is an island, even if many of them own one. In fact, vanishingly few of us have fates that are wholly self-determined.

As a moral matter, if not a legal one, we might ask what the very rich do with their money as a way of evaluating whether they should keep it. As famously rich person Elon Musk recently tweeted: “Working hard to make useful products & services for your fellow humans is deeply morally good.” Many who support wealth taxes seem to hold the belief that the government would use the resources that the very wealthy command toward more valuable ends. Of course, most of the fortunes of billionaires such as the Waltons, or Musk, or Bezos are tied up in the large and extremely productive firms that made them rich in the first place.”

The race to the bottom on corporate taxation starves us of the resources we need to solve our biggest problems

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-race-to-the-bottom-on-corporate-taxation-starves-us-of-the-resources-we-need-to-solve-our-biggest-problems-2019-10-07

Scrapping a subsidy to homeowners

“In the February issue of the American Economic Review, researchers Kamila Sommer and Paul Sullivan consider the implications for the US housing market if this $90 billion subsidy to homeowners were to be scrapped. They find that getting rid of it would actually improve overall welfare by lowering home prices and expanding opportunities for home ownership among younger and lower-income households.
“The people who are the primary beneficiaries of the deduction are the high-income households,” Sommer said in an interview with the AEA. “When you take it away, house prices fall, they consume less housing, live in smaller houses…but the decline in house prices reduces the entry cost for the marginal households that are previously renting. It’s almost like this reallocation of housing from high-income households to low-income households.”

Critics say the mortgage interest deduction is a regressive tax policy that inflates prices and encourages buyers to choose more expensive houses and take on debt rather than sinking money into other investments. It also robs the Treasury of tax revenue that could be used to close the deficit. But real estate lobbyists say its repeal would depress homeownership and negatively impact social welfare.”

“More than half of all existing homeowners — 58 percent — would see their consumption improve after the reform, with most of the benefits going to young, low-income households. Rich homeowners with big properties suffer the most, since they have outsized amounts of mortgage interest that can be deducted from their income tax burden. When that benefit goes away they end up bearing the brunt of the impact.

It’s less certain whether there would be any meaningful impact on tax revenue for the government, the authors say. Getting rid of the deduction leads to a 2.6 percent increase in income tax revenue, but the falling home prices translate to a 7.8 percent drop in property tax revenue. Overall, it’s essentially a wash, with a total revenue gain of just one-half of a percentage point.”