Write-Off: The Tax Blog

The Guillotine Tax

Saturday February 29, 2020 • Jeff Hoopes, UNC

For most of human history, when there were rich and powerful people that were broadly believed to be hurting society, murder was the solution, whether done by rival powerful people, revolutions of the common folks, or whoever felt in the mood for some good old fashioned bloodshed. These rich people would be shot, stabbed, poisoned, or, taken care of in the more sophisticated French manner, decapitated with the guillotine.

Recently, there has been increasing interest in some political circles to demonize the very wealthy. Several democratic political candidates have proposed taxes with the explicit goal of reducing the number of billionaires.  The existence of billionaires has been described as a “policy failure” or a “policy mistake”, and that they should “not exist”, that we should “cancel billionaires” or “ban billionaires”.  Some have proposed that there should be an absolute cap on the amount of wealth one can have, with the rest of the wealth being subsumed by the government. Calls for getting rid of billionaires are so common, when a tax plan does not include such an intent, it is called out.

Long ago, we used to simply kill those we didn’t like—a simple and long-lasting solution. Not terribly civilized, but time-tested, final, and simple.  Now, it has become more fashionable to try to tax them so much so that the feature we don’t like about them no longer exists. We tax their wealth, and make them less wealthy.  So, I propose we call taxes with the explicit goal of de-wealthifying the wealthy (and not raising revenue, etc.) what they truly are—modern day guillotines, meant to cut off some of the most valuable assets of the wealthy. Decapitalizing instead of decapitating. Guillotine taxes.

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