one percent
We need a Global Wealth Tax
A solution to the financial crisis, global poverty, and climate change

Richard Parncutt
June 2012, revised 2017

rp

In the anti-Nazi poem "Alfabet" (1934), Bertold Brecht wrote:

A rich man and a poor man stood and looked at each other. The poor man said palely: "If I was not poor, you would not be rich.". (Reicher Mann und armer Mann standen da und sahn sich an, und der Arme sagte bleich: "Wär ich nicht arm, wärst du nicht reich.")

Today, this is not true. The rich are now in a position to eliminate poverty while remaining rich. Apart from obvious measures such as obeying the law (which counts out tax havens and exploitation of developing countries by multinationals), the fairest way to achieve the end of poverty is by means of a globally harmonized wealth tax.

The following change.org petition was written in 2012 and is now closed. The complete original text with commentary and explanations is here and additional explanations are here.
The petition text was as follows:

To UN, IMF, World Bank, G20: National governments cannot pay their debts, a billion people are living in poverty worldwide, and urgent warnings about climate change are being ignored. In all three cases, the main problem is money. But the money is available - in abundance. Economic globalisation and technological developments are making the rich megarich. Worldwide, there are now over a thousand US$-billionaires. As concerned citizens across the world, we call on relevant global organisations such as the UN, IMF, World Bank, and G20 to negotiate a global agreement to tax all wealth - including all companies, trusts, and wealthy individuals - at a single rate of about 1% per year, in addition to existing non-wealth taxes. Exceptions should be limited to genuine non-profit organisations and individuals whose assets are less than about US$ 1 million.


A year later in 2013, the problem and its solution were presented by Thomas Piketty in his ground-breaking book Capital in the 21st Century, with a wealth of historical data and economic theory. The book attracted much more publicity than this petition, but in the end it was also ignored. Picketty recommended a progressive wealth tax according to the principle that tax should be paid in proportion to the ability to pay; we recommended a flat wealth tax on the assumption that a simple tax is harder to evade and any global wealth tax is better than none at all.


The proposed tax would be collected within countries using existing mechanisms, according to a global agreement. If wealth tax can work in France, Spain, Iceland, India, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, and Italy, it can work everywhere. The global community (e.g. the G20) would agree at last to end global tax evasion; tax havens that did not comply would face economic sanctions. If Iran can be forced to have its nuclear facilities inspected, tax havens can be forced to reveal the bank balances of their clients. All citizens would be required to
declare their wealth, just as they now declare their income; Forbes magazine already estimates the wealth of the world's richest people. Multinational companies and individuals would assign their wealth to different countries according to globally agreed criteria. Tax offices would establish a budget for investigating wealth declarations (e.g. 1% of the 1% tax, or 1/10000 of the tax office's initial wealth estimate). Undeclared wealth, when discovered, would be taxed at a higher rate, say 5%. Existing methods for punishing tax evasion would apply and might include jail sentences or loss of citizenship. Another possibility is to tax stock exchanges, requiring every company to pay 1% of its market capitalization (share value x no. of shares) every year. 

Every year, the wealth gap gets wider, and nothing is done. Few economists are talking about the problem, as if they had no idea what was going on or had no responsibility toward to the society that pays their wages (at least for university professors). Economists who care about this problem are marginalized by their academic colleagues. Caring about other people seems too embarrassing for the distinguished academic discipline of economics, with its peer-review journals and high rejection rates. The idea that economics and ethics are related (and always have been) is still being presented as if it were novel (link) - "soft" economics for mediocre or desperate scholars. The academic literature on economics and ethics (example) is sidelined both academically and politically. National election campaigns are dominated by local and regional issues; the most important global issues are ignored as if the future (and our own children) did not exist.

Meanwhile the human race is progressing, slowly but surely, toward economic, political, and environmental meltdown. These three aspects are feeding on each other: the wealth gap is undermining democracy, which in turn is inhibiting the sustainable energy revolution. The worse global warming becomes, the greater will be the economic and political consequences. The ultimate losers will be human beings, who will die in hundreds of millions later this century as a result of the failure of today's political, business and academic leaders to solve this problem. The main reasons for the deaths of those hundreds of millions will be hunger and lack of drinking water (climate change), political unrest and violence (including wars over natural resources), and poverty (which increases the vulnerability of individuals and families to the other problems).

Why do humans so steadfastly refuse to talk about the simplest, most obvious solutions to their own problems? Perhaps the ultimate problem is psychological: victim mentality. But the psychologists do not seem to talk about that, either, and if they do, they fail to make the big political connections that would be necessary to solve these problems. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Comments

The following comments were entered to the change.org website. It's not often that you receive comments of this quality after an open petition:

Because this would be a relatively easy tax to collect, at least on the $12.3 trillion of cross-border financial assets that we at Tax Justice Network estimate is now parked in just 50 global leaders in international private banking. Make it an annual withholding tax on "anonymous" financial wealth, including criminal money, and devote the proceeds to multilateral aid for climate change relief.
James S. Henry, Sag Harbor, NY

There is under supply of investment and excessive saving on a global scale. This proposal will result in surplus savings invested into long term development.
Mike Robbins, Cheltenham, UK

Deploying a 1% tax on wealth means that any individual on earth would have to reimburse during its lifetime most of the wealth enjoyed privately. That makes sense to leave this world having paid ones debt to the community. I love this idea.
Marc de Basquiat, Versailles, France

This is a workable solution to a major economic problem. Those paying the tax would hardly notice it, but it would make an enormous difference to most people.
John Sloboda, London, UK

The current levels of inequality are inhumane. We're entering a post-scarcity world, yet our socio-economic systems resemble a gold rush that inflicts suffering on a vast share of the world's population.
Jakub Bukaj, Warsaw, Poland

This is the only way to bring inequality, in the UK and globally, under control - which we desperately need to do. It's just a bloody shame the richest people in the world control much of the political spectrum as well as economic, and even worse the majority of the world's press is either owned by them or generally sucks up to them. Come on folks, we're going to need people power for this one! Spread the word!
Nicholas Stokes, Portsmouth, UK

It's time that governments had the guts to say to voters we need to tax you more. Generally, voters are looking for a government that will reduce their taxes, and increase their public services. They're dreaming. I am able to pay a bit more tax. I'm not sure if this idea will work but it should be seriously considered.
Graeme Parncutt, Hawthorn, Australia

It is nonsense for this group to gradually steal the resources of all humanity, to profiteer from wrecking the environment, and to make our species extinct. By paying fair share, it would release resources to pay for the restoration of the earth, communities and the infrastructure of the future.
Mary Marinkovich, Port Townsend, WA

The rich poor gap is a brake on human maturity. This will provide at least a palliative for massive suffering., and hopefully lead on to profound cures for our ailing sense of inclusive justice.
Peter Challen, London, UK

As I'm convinced such a tax is necessary to sustain peace between the industrialized nations. Furthermore we won't have a planet to live on in a few decades if we continue polluting our environment and doing nothing to preserve it!
René Kastner, Graz, Austria

Inequity is a central cause of social dysfunction and a threat to democracy. Wealth is NOT correlated to level of work or creation or contribution in reality!
Aaron Wolf, Ann Arbor, MI

To try to eliminate global poverty and make for a more fair and just world
Valerie Ward, Englefield Green, UK

I want to pay my debits and but a house for my children.
Tshidi Miranda Kekana, Pretoria, South Africa

This is an issue that desperately needs solving!
Jenna Brame, Bury St Edmunds, UK

It's a great idea!!! I'm not rich but I would happily pay 1%
Jill Davidson, Aldershot, UK

As long as it's funded to benefit social programs I think almost everyone would win.
Nicolaas Coats, Los Angeles, CA

Hospital and schools are being starved of cash so that more money can trickle up to those who already have more than then can possibly spend.... 2% would be better - with the extra 1% devoted to implementing clean energy generation across the globe
John Dinwoodie, London, UK

I believe in taxing the super rich. No one person needs a billion pounds or more!
Denis Gleeson, Manchester, UK

Food for thought: If the USA can print 7% of its GDP to save it's economy and the assets of the mega rich then perhaps the entire world should be printing 7% of it's GDP and the money used to address all sorts of social issues. Currency depreciation would not occur if everyone agrees to print money at same % of GDP. Likewise inflation would not be an issue because it has been proven that inflation can be effectively controlled when a central bank targets inflation and only inflation. This inflation fighting policy was introduced in Australia in the early 1990's. By the late 1990's many of the world's central banks had adopted this inflation control policy and it has worked brilliantly through 2 stock market bubbles and a property bubble.
John Gallego, Australia

Porque creo en la justicia social.
Rafael Taguas Sanchez, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Die Reichen sollen sich angemessen beteiligen
Hauke Smidt, Germany

“Human beings are so destructive. I sometimes think we're a kind of plague, that will scrub the earth clean. We destroy things so well that I sometimes think, maybe that's our function. Maybe every few eons, some animal comes along that kills off the rest of the world, clears the decks, and lets evolution proceed to its next phase.”
― Michael Crichton, The Lost World
“Let's be clear. The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven't got the power to destroy the planet - or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves.”
― Michael Crichton
Anita Kanitz, Stuttgart, Germany

Because global warming is real and we need to do something about it. NOW.
Renzo Calcagno, Montevideo, Uruguay

This could help the poor and keep more and more people from going poor. The recession we're facing now could go worse than the great depression or be just as bad.
Timothy Paich, Loveladies, NJ

The wealth gap is growing, but a more progressive tax than a single rate is needed to diminish the gap.
John Lawson, Raglan, New Zealand

We need to care for the poor of whom there are millions. The rich do not need our support.
Graham Kirkby, Sheffield, UK

We all suffer under debt - consider how the Venetians and their fiscal plans have caused problems since the 1340s - read more in the Palmerston's Zoo papers at Schiller.
There used to be laws for 7 year debt relief and 50 year write offs - not onstant debt selling which hits the poor whilst the rich laugh and use it as a form of eugenics by destroying individual health by stress, communities by destroying local impetus in favour of big brother
David Hepworth, Brighouse, UK

The rich keep getting richer while the poor keep getting ignored.
Michael Macnamara, Perth, Australia

If you have 100 cars in your garage you are not paying enough taxes or giving enough to charity. I used to deliver pizzas, and I also know the vast majority of wealthy individuals even tip poorly compared to normal or even less fortunate people. I guess us reggos don't have that fire of greed burning in our soul in a permanant state of unquenched desire.
Dan Sandler, Atlantic Highlands, NJ

Its important that Americans know their Government are impoverishing thousands of low-income Americans.
Pab Marquez, Miami, FL

An excellent petition about the most urgent issue of our time
Agneta lane, Hoganas, Sweden

It‘s the only way to a fairer economy
Gunilla Gustavsson, Höganäs, Sweden

We have to think of future generations.
Pekka Toivanen, Jyväskylä, Finland

Because they're criminals that must be condemened and also pay taxes.
Marcelo Tuller, Buenos Aires, Argentinia

If you have the ability to help (your are wealthy), then you have the responsibility
Emma Leaper, Penzance, UK

To create more equal incomes and to do at least SOMETHING about the incredible injustice of the fact that some people DIE through lack of food while others can afford mansions, luxury food, and all sorts of other goodies; in many cases not even as a result of anything they've DONE but simply because of who their family is which is hardly something they have achieved!
Margaret King, London, UK

Fairness
Raphael Boleloucky-Bolen, Vienna, Austria

In an increasingly "global" world, we should all take responsibility globally - including the richest, the profiteers, the self-seekers.
Elcome Cary, Mishima, Japan

The present long-term financial melt-down is the result of the games played by the rich with economies of the world (both of countries & individuals). They can only do this because of their EXCESS wealth. It needs to be redistributed to all the rest of us - and the world - whence it was created.
Barry Hollingsbee, London, UK

Climate change and enormous wealth disparity are both serious problems that need adressing.
Wookey, Cambridge, UK

Who else is going to do anything?
Adrian Beam, Edmond

Redistribution of wealth as a means of reducing poverty is an obviously sensible idea. In these terms, poverty means having no access to proper toilet facilities and is relevant to 40% of the planet's population.
Mark Quiney, London, UK

Survival of life on this planet is at stake. What a legacy to leave
Aileen Owen Davies, Egham, UK

To lessen the gap between rich & poor & to give poorer people the chance to live decently with food, shelter & healthcare etc.
Sylvia Coles, villefranche de Rouergue, France

Our children don't have enough food to grow their bodies and feed their brains.
Jenny Neve, Birkenhead, New Zealand

"[A] progressive policy needs more than just a bigger break with the economic and moral assumptions of the past 30 years. It needs a return to the conviction that economic growth and the affluence it brings is a means and not an end. The end is what it does to the lives, life-chances and hopes of people. ... The test of a progressive policy is not private but public, not just rising income and consumption for individuals, but widening the opportunities and what Amartya Sen calls the "capabilities" of all through collective action. But that means, it must mean, public non-profit initiative, even if only in redistributing private accumulation. Public decisions aimed at collective social improvement from which all human lives should gain. That is the basis of progressive policy - not maximising economic growth and personal incomes. Nowhere will this be more important than in tackling the greatest problem facing us this century, the environmental crisis. Whatever ideological logo we choose for it, it will mean a major shift away from the free market and towards public action. ... And, given the acuteness of the economic crisis, probably a fairly rapid shift. Time is not on our side." (Eric Hobsbawm)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/apr/10/financial-crisis-capitalism-socialism-alternatives
Harald Fladischer, Leoben, Austria

Because I understand game theory. Because I have children. Because humanity needs a moral upgrade, and those for whom the current system works will not change by themselves.
Doreen Soutar, Dalkeith, UK

The suffering globally has to come to an end. It's immoral and it's destroying our planet and its citizens.
Charlee Martin, Northolt, UK

Charity should not be required to fight starvation. Enough food to live should be the right of every human. Like a good Samaritan law - if you can afford to feed someone who is starving it should be your legal obligation to.
Liam Murphy, Birmingham, UK

Because the world needs to share its wealth not just for the sake of the poor but for the conscience of the rich.
Damian Baughan, Dronfield, UK

Money has no value compared to life.
Sheryl Odlum, Leeds, UK

I am part of the 99%.
John Elvidge, South Molton, UK

This sounds like a very easy way to make an immense difference, if the relevant bodies can be made to agree, - a big IF, but certainly important to try.
Kay Williams, Crewe, UK

Even a 1% tax can help us to allocate monetary and material resources more fairly.
Gerd Kaup, Graz, Austria

On every transaction, even if I buy a single apple, I pay 10-20% taxes (depends on product, country, etc). How come we pay taxes when it comes to food, but people who own great sums of money don't [have to] contribute?
Bernd Brabec de Mori, Gratwein, Austria

It's past due.
Justin Winkler, Graz, Austria

It's the right thing to do to help reduce the deficit.
David Holder, Waco, TX

We need the world in equlibrium.
Darko Šfiligoj, Nova Gorica, Slovenia

This is important because we need to make all that we can to tacke existing problems of poverty and environmental disequilibrium.
Albina Škerbinc, Ljubljana, Slovenia

I want to see hunger and poverty eradicated asap and for all time, and for every person to have the necessities of life - in a word: JUSTICE!
Elisabeth Reinhard, Mangonui, New Zealand

Visionen zur Weltverbesserung unterstütze ich, auch wenn ich meine, jede/r von uns sollte zunächst in einem kleineren und überschaubaren Kreise seine Kräfte einsetzen - hier ein konkretes Beispiel aus Österreich: http://www.gemeinwohl-oekonomie.org/en/uber-uns/gwo-in-3-min/
Hermann Becke, Graz, Austria

After I die I would like my grandchildren to be able to enjoy the same beautiful world that we enjoy today.
Richard Parncutt, Graz, Austria

Because I care.
Mine Eder, Bogazici, Türkei

People who have more may be in this position because others have less, because that is the way the balance often works. We need address urgent problems of poverty around the world and this is one simple way to do it.
Rob Parkinson, Tonbridge, UK

There is a long reasoning behind, but very briefly: because there is no other way for peace and freedom.
Friedemann Lenz, Markgröningen, Germany

It will improve the quality of most people in the world.
Lorenzo Canizares, Harrisburg, PA

Though 1% is paltry compared to what the super-rich take from everyone and our environment, it's a good principle. The only better way is to stop the accumulations before they happen by shared ownership of everything!
Joseph Maizlish, Los Angeles, CA

Way overdue to flatten the playing field.
B.E. Macomber, Alfombra, Baru, Costa Rica

Pressure!
PRAT Boris, Bruniquel, France

For peace
Jacques Berthillier, 09400 Gourbit, France

Ethics
Alain Busser, Le Tampon, Réunion

Earth solidarity
Jean-Marc Tagliaferri, Saint Denis Reunion, France

Everyone has to participate for a better world!

Axelle Saury, Toulouse, France

I have children.

Joseph Horgan, Kensington, MD


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