Super-rich call for more taxes on themselves

Unequal people: The wealthiest 1% are twice as rich as 6.9 billion others put together.

Is tax the best way to share wealth? Eighty-three of the world’s richest people have written an astonishing letter to governments asking for more of their money to be taken away from them.

Few letters in recent times have made more surprising reading. Among those who have signed it are the co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream, Jerry Greenfield; Walt Disney’s great-niece Abigail Disney, and the screenwriter Richard Curtis.

“Today,” it says, “we, the undersigned millionaires, ask our governments to raise taxes on people like us. Immediately. Substantially. Permanently.”

The letter concludes that the pandemic offers a unique chance to “rebalance our world” before it is too late. “So please. Tax us […]. Humanity is more important than our money.”

There are over half a million “ultra-wealthy” people on the planet, defined as owning more than $30 million (£24m) – more than the populations of Iceland, Malta or Belize.

But, historically, they have been more interested in dodging taxes than in paying more. Leona Helmsley, a New York hotelier, famously declared: “Only the little people pay taxes.”

Many rich people, of course, have given away money. But they have usually done so by donating to good causes or – like Bill and Melinda Gates – setting up their own charitable foundations.

Is tax the best way to share wealth?

Disparity or charity

No. Giving money to Donald Trump to build his wall or to Boris Johnson to pay for Brexit seems wrong to many people. If you had a spare billion, why not set up your own foundation, like Bill Gates who focuses on eradicating disease, and control where the money goes?

Yes, of course tax is the best way. Giving to charity cannot be compared to paying tax. Charities are there to fix problems. Governments can redistribute wealth from the richer to the poorer. Charities are run by boards of half a dozen people. Democratically elected governments represent the will of the entire people – whether you agree with them or not.

You Decide

  1. Which good cause would you most like to help support with money?

Activities

  1. Design a poster encouraging people to pay their tax because it is the right thing to do.

Some People Say...

“Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence […] but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice.”

Adam Smith (1723-1790), Scottish economist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
A huge proportion of the world’s wealth is owned by an extraordinarily small number of individuals. According to Oxfam’s Time To Care report issued in January, the 2,153 richest people (the billionaires) own more than the 4.6 billion poorest. The 22 wealthiest men in the world have more money than all the women in Africa put together.
What do we not know?
Whether having high taxes for the very rich is counter-productive. Governments that do so, generally, find that the people in question simply move to other countries. It is arguably more efficient to attract them with low taxes, in the hope that the money they spend will provide a good income for other people who can then be taxed as well.

Word Watch

Abigail Disney
US documentary maker whose grandfather Roy was Walt Disney’s older brother and business manager. She created the Daphne Foundation to combat poverty in New York.
Richard Curtis
A British writer and director whose films include Four Weddings and a Funeral, Mr Bean’s Holiday, and Love Actually. He co-founded Comic Relief.
Iceland
A volcanic island just south of the Arctic Circle. Its parliament, the “Althing”, is thought to be the oldest in the world, dating from 930.
Malta
An island country in the Mediterranean Sea. It was of vital strategic importance in WWII, and survived such heavy bombing by the German air force that it was awarded the George Cross.
Belize
A country in Central America which used to be called British Honduras. It became independent in 1981.
Leona Helmsley
Nicknamed “the Queen of Mean” because of her penny-pinching ways. She died in 2007, leaving $12 million (£10m) to her dog.
Hotelier
A person who owns or manages a hotel or chain of hotels.

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