(p. A1) WASHINGTON — Progressive Democrats are advocating the most drastic shift in tax policy in over a century as they look to redistribute wealth and chip away at the economic power of the superrich with new taxes that could fundamentally reshape the United States economy.
As they compete for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont have proposed wealth taxes that would shrink the fortunes of the richest Americans. Their plans envision an enormous transfer of money from the wealthy to ordinary people, with revenue from the wealth tax used to finance new social programs like tuition-free college, universal child care and “Medicare for all.”
The wealth taxes under discussion would deal a major blow to the balance sheets of American plutocrats like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. If the tax that Ms. Warren has called for had been in place since 1982, the net worth of the 15 richest Americans in 2018 would have been half as much, according to two economists who helped develop her plan. The Sanders wealth tax, which was released last week, would have eroded their fortunes even further, to barely one-fifth of their 2018 total.
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(p. A18) But redirecting such vast sums could have unintended effects on the United States economy that go beyond promulgating economic fairness. While Ms. Warren ticks off the social programs that can be funded if the richest Americans pay just 2 cents on every dollar they have above $50 million — a number that is unimaginable to most Americans — skeptics warn of economic stagnation, depressed business confidence and a legal battle that would go to the Supreme Court.
At a conference sponsored by the Brookings Institution in September, N. Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard economist, debated Mr. Saez and Mr. Zucman about the merits of taxing wealth. Mr. Mankiw, the former head of President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, offered a searing critique, arguing that a wealth tax would skew incentives that could alter when the superrich make investments, how they give to charity and even potentially spur a wave of divorces for tax purposes. He also noted that billionaires, with their legions of lawyers and accountants, have proven to be experts at gaming the system to avoid even the most onerous taxes.
“On the one hand it’s a bad policy, and then the other thing is it’s a feckless policy,” Mr. Mankiw said.
Left-leaning economists have expressed their own doubts about a wealth tax. Earlier this year, Lawrence Summers, who was President Bill Clinton’s Treasury secretary, warned in an article with Natasha Sarin, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, that wealth taxes would sap innovation by putting new burdens on entrepreneurial businesses while they are starting up. In their view, a country with more millionaires is a sign of economic vibrancy.
“Turning the tax code into a vehicle for confronting what some call ‘oligarchic drift’ would undermine business confidence, reduce investment, degrade economic efficiency and punish success in ways unlikely to be good for the country or even to be appealing to most Americans,” they wrote.
For the full story, see:
Alan Rappeport and Thomas Kaplan. “For or Against, Taxing the Rich Rouses Passion.” The New York Times (Wednesday, October 2, 2019): A1 & A18.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “Democrats’ Plans to Tax Wealth Would Reshape U.S. Economy.”)
The “article” by Sarin and Summers, mentioned above, is:
Sarin, Natasha, and Lawrence H. Summers. “Fair, Comprehensive Tax Reform Is the Right Path Forward.” Entry on larrysummers.com, March 29, 2019. http://larrysummers.com/2019/04/01/fair-comprehensive-tax-reform-is-the-right-path-forward/ .