Why Europe axed its wealth taxes

Mar 2012
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New Hampshire
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Interesting.

Senator Elizabeth Warren is pushing a wealth-tax plan on the presidential campaign trail. She is promising that her tax would counter a rigged political system and raise enough money to pay for universal child care, a Green New Deal, student-loan relief, Medicare for All, and more housing subsidies.

More than a dozen European countries used to have wealth taxes, but nearly all of these countries repealed them, including Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Sweden. Wealth taxes survive only in Norway, Spain, and Switzerland. Before repeal, European wealth taxes — with a variety of rates and bases — tended to raise only about 0.2 percent of gross domestic product in revenue, based on Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development data. That is only 1/40th as much as the U.S. federal income tax raises.

Yet for little revenue, wealth taxes are difficult to administer and enforce. They may require taxpayers to report the values of financial securities, homes, furniture, artwork, jewelry, antiques, vehicles, boats, pension rights, family businesses, farm assets, land, intellectual property, and much else. But owners do not know the market values of many assets, and values change over time, so costly wealth-tax compliance would only make accountants wealthy. Here’s the kicker: Since the base of wealth taxes is net wealth, debt is deductible. That allowed wealthy Europeans to jack up their borrowing and invest in the exempted assets to shrink their tax bases. If a wealth tax were imposed in the United States, the farm lobby would most certainly get farmland excluded.

The Swedish wealth tax also prompted large outflows of capital and the expatriation of well-known business people, such as the founder of Ikea, Ingvar Kamprad. The design of wealth taxes is notoriously prone to lobbying and the granting of exemptions that the wealthiest can exploit. Furthermore, the rich have proved adept avoiding or evading taxes by placing their wealth abroad in low tax jurisdictions.”

Why Europe Axed Its Wealth Taxes
 

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