The coronavirus pandemic, as well as recent protests against racial injustice, have highlighted a few underlying problems in our society that have been unknown by many and ignored by most. One of them is the income equality in America: the staggering wealth that a very small percentage of the population owns. As you’ve probably heard, about 1% of the population owns 44% of the wealth in the world. It’s staggering.
That’s why the idea of a wealth tax has been kicked around lately, especially as we draw nearer to the 2020 election. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders both proposed a wealth tax during their campaigns, and billionaires like Warren Buffet have even spoken in favor of a wealth tax.
But what is a wealth tax, and how does it work? Listen to our latest Wealth by Design episode to find out.
Bonus: we have Joseph Darbonne from the Toujours Planning team as a co-host!
Let’s get this out of the way first: wealth tax is not the same as your income tax. Income tax taxes the money you rake in over a period of time. Through our progressive income tax system here in the United States, people with higher taxable incomes pay higher income tax rates. There are seven federal income tax brackets, where the lowest tax rate is 10% and the highest is 37%.
Net worth is, as Dustin put it, basically everything you own, minus everything you owe. (Need to know what yours is? We have a calculator for that) A wealth tax would tax your net worth. For example, if you have $400,000 of assets and $250,000 of debt, your net worth would be $150,000. A 2% wealth tax would be $3,000.
As Joseph mentioned, wealth taxes are not brand new ideas.
“There are wealth taxes in place already that you’re not even aware you pay,” said Joseph. “If you’re a homeowner, your property tax is a wealth tax.” There are also inheritance taxes, estate taxes, and gift taxes as other examples.
Why would we want to institute a wealth tax in this country? Well, we talk about the net worth of Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos in this episode, and we guesstimated it was around $77 billion at the time of recording in mid-July. We were wrong: he has an estimated $178 billion, and is the currently richest person alive. Compare how much wealth he has to the average American, and it’s mind-boggling.
As Joseph explained, we now have about 2,100 billionaires in this country… and minimum wage is still under eight bucks in their state of Louisiana.
A wealth tax would move to balance out the wealth inequality we experience in our society today. It would also make tax percentages equal for all: “If you’re worth ten dollars or ten billion dollars, you’re gonna have the same tax rate, but based on your net worth,” explained Dustin.
We point out in the episode that many people in the top 1% are lucky enough to inherit wealth. There are self-made billionaires who busted their butts, yes, but some of the ultra-wealthy didn’t lift a finger to make their millions and billions. Wealth is much more unequally distributed than income. If we continue to allow income inequality, the ultra-wealthy who inherited their wealth will keep dominating the economy.
Having a wealth tax sounds like an easy fix to income equality, but the mechanics of having it? Not so much. What would be considered a taxable asset? Are there liabilities that wouldn’t be taxed? How do you even calculate the value of an asset, like your house or business? It gets tricky. And there may be cons against those who aren’t wealthy, too.
One of the biggest arguments against the wealth tax, Dustin explained, is that it doesn’t incentivize saving, investing, or building businesses. If we tax the richest people, they might not want to do anything to build their net worth.
That may be so, but we also discussed how human nature plays into everything. We want to feel like we have value, and that we matter. Would we really settle for having a negative net worth? Or would people want to keep building their savings and growing their wealth?
This was a really fun topic to discuss in our latest episode, and we hope y’all learned about wealth tax by listening. We also hope you enjoyed meeting our new co-host!
This material is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.
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