The superrich have a simple choice ahead of them: pay more taxes or face “pitchforks” from the masses worldwide.
That’s according to one group of millionaires and billionaires, who say they know what their choice is: they’ll gladly pay more taxes.
“We urge you to step forward now — before it’s too late — to demand higher and fairer taxes on millionaires and billionaires within your own countries and to help prevent individual and corporate tax avoidance and evasion through international tax reform efforts,” the 121 well-heeled members of the Patriotic Millionaires wrote in an open letter Wednesday as the world’s elite amassed in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum’s high-profile summit.
“Extreme, destabilizing inequality is growing across the globe,” the letter said. “Today, there are more billionaires on earth than ever before, and they control more wealth than they ever have. Meanwhile, the incomes of the poorest half of humanity remain virtually unchanged.”
Philanthropy from the elite will always be “an inadequate substitute for government investment,” the letter said. “Taxes are the best and only appropriate way to ensure adequate investment in the things our societies need.”
The signatories include Abigail Disney, a granddaughter of Disney
co-founder Roy Disney, who has criticized Disney CEO Bob Iger’s $65 million pay package.
The worldwide focus is a new direction for the Patriotic Millionaires, a group of ultra-high net worth individuals who have been pushing for more taxation on people like them. The group has previously focused on taxing the rich and businesses in America, but a spokesman said inequality is a worldwide problem that won’t be solved only with higher taxes in America.
The letter said across the world, efforts to minimize taxation and skip it altogether “have reached epidemic proportions.” It cited a 2017 study that concluded that 10% of the world’s gross domestic product is held in tax havens across the world.
The global focus may be a new shift for the group, but it stokes the ongoing debate over income inequality and what to do about it.
Days ahead of the letter, a new report from Oxfam, a global charity group focused on ending poverty, said the world’s 2,153 billionaires had more money than the 4.6 billion people comprising the 60% of the world’s population.
In America, income inequality is at its most stark divide in 50 years, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have both made wealth taxes central parts of their bids for the Democratic presidential nomination. Their plans to increase taxation want to “punish success,” according to one conservative think tank, the Employment Policies Institute.
A new CNN poll Wednesday showed Sanders topping former Vice President Joe Biden with registered Democrats backing the Vermont senator 27% compared to 24% supporting Biden.
Right now, America’s top income tax rate is nowhere near the world’s highest rates. Sweden currently has the highest rate for top earners, at 57.19%, according to the World Economic Forum.
The average top tax rate in highly developed countries is 41.65%, according to the World Economic Forum.
The Trump administration 2017 tax cuts lowered the top rate to 37% from 39.6%. The top rate kicks in for an individual if they make at least $510,301 and it applies to married couples making at least $612,351.
California, New York and Washington D.C. all have a so-called “millionaire’s tax” where the top rate starts for those making at least $1 million. (Connecticut has a similar top rate, but only for married couples.)
Last week, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat and former Goldman Sachs
executive, announced he would renew an effort for a top state income tax rate applying to people making at least $1 million.