There are other tools that don’t involve quite the risks and challenges of targeting the richest families.
When the United States government wants to raise money from individuals, its mode of choice, for more than a century, has been to tax what people earn — the income they receive from work or investments.
But what if instead the government taxed the wealth you had accumulated?
That is the idea behind a policy Senator Elizabeth Warren has embraced in her presidential campaign. It represents a more substantial rethinking of the federal government’s approach to taxation than anything a major presidential candidate has proposed in recent memory — a new wealth tax that would have enormous implications for inequality.
It would shift more of the burden of paying for government toward the families that have accumulated fortunes in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars. And over time, such a tax would make it less likely that such fortunes develop.
It would create big new challenges for the I.R.S. in ensuring compliance. There is a reason many European countries that once had a wealth tax have abandoned it in the last couple of decades.
And that’s before you get to the legal and political challenges. There is an open debate around whether a wealth tax is constitutional. And some of the most powerful families in the country would certainly deploy their vast resources against a wealth tax, and against any candidate who embraces it.
The comedian Chris Rock had a routine in the early 2000s in which he expounded on the distinction between those who are rich and those who are wealthy.
Shaquille O’Neal, the star basketball player, was rich, Mr. Rock said. The team owner who signed his paycheck was wealthy. And that, in a nutshell, gets at the conceptual difference between trying to tax people’s income, as the tax code does today, versus their wealth.
The C.E.O. of Walmart makes about $22 million a year. He is rich by any definition. But the Walton family, descendants of the company’s founder, are mind-bogglingly wealthy. The Bloomberg Billionaires index estimates that Sam Walton’s three living children are worth around $45 billion each, putting them each among the 20 wealthiest people in the world.
A family that has accumulated enormous wealth can escape with surprisingly low income levels, and therefore tax burdens.
In an extreme example, Warren Buffett owns enough stock in Berkshire Hathaway to put his estimated net worth at $84 billion, but he pays himself $100,000 a year to be its chief executive. Even in years when his wealth rises by billions, he must pay tax only on his comparatively modest income and on the gains from shares that he chooses to sell.
Ms. Warren and other advocates of a wealth tax argue that this accumulation of untaxed or lightly taxed wealth is a bad thing. They say that it enables the creation of democracy-distorting dynasties who accumulate political power, and that tax policy should be used to rein them in more than the current tax code does.
.. When she took over the institution, banks and companies were moving $5 billion out of the country every month, and inflation topped 7%.She shut down 70 banks in her first year.
.. Ms. Nabiullina stopped a longstanding policy of spending billions of dollars from the country’s reserves to try to prop up the ruble. In December 2014, with the ruble continuing to fall, the central bank nearly doubled its key lending rate to 17% at an emergency late-night meeting... The rate increase restored calm to markets but strangled the country’s consumer-fueled growth. The country’s emerging middle class, which had become used to foreign vacations and European cars, is still feeling the effects of the ruble’s collapse... Since she took office, she has halved the number of Russian banks, shutting down about 440 lenders. She has reduced capital outflows by about 50% to $2.5 billion a month... Many of the banks she closed had been considered untouchable, analysts said. Some, such as Promsviazbank, counted lawmakers and state-company executives among its shareholders and held money for national oil companies and the Orthodox Church... Others, like Bank Sovetskiy, had served political objectives, providing banking services in Crimea, the Ukrainian region the Kremlin annexed in 2014.
.. When the central bank took over Yugra last June following repeated warnings, it said it found a $600 million deficit in its balance sheet masked with bad loans. Just hours before the bankrupt bank’s license was due to expire, the prosecutor’s office ordered a halt to the closure, calling the bank “a financially stable credit organization.” Ms. Nabiullina rejected the order... “It was a test of will, and she won,” said banking analyst Mr. Lukashuk... In January, inflation hit a record low for the post-Soviet period of 2.2%, a result of Ms. Nabiullina’s decision to keep interest rates high after the Crimea sanctions. Some tycoons have urged a faster reduction... Still, she has struggled to regulate Russia’s lesser, underperforming state-owned banks, whose executives often treat them as fiefs, analysts said. These banks are kept afloat by constant injections of state funds, which the executives have funneled into unrelated assets ranging from supermarkets to railroad cars... Almost a trillion rubles of public capital, about $16 billion at today’s rate, went to just three state-owned banks—
- Gazprombank and
in the first four years of Ms. Nabiullina’s central-bank term, according to Fitch Ratings. All are still saddled with bad debts or illiquid assets.
.. Her modest economic forecasts have consistently lagged behind Mr. Putin’s goals, which she said can only be achieved through deep, unpopular changes to the system.
Even if the price of oil rose to $100, from around $65 today, she said, “it’s very unlikely that our economy can grow above 1.5% to 2%” a year.