This week I added my name to an open letter, organised by organisations including Patriotic Millionaires and Oxfam, inviting millionaires and billionaires around the world to join our demand for higher and fairer taxes on the very wealthiest.
Over 80 of us, including Ben and Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield, film director Richard Curtis, former Blackrock managing director Morris Peal and film producer Abigail Disney, in what at first glance seems a strange move – none of us really means it when we say we want to pay more tax, do we?
Yet I believe that a permanent, higher tax on millionaires and billionaires like us is not only fair but essential in the years ahead as our world recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Even if we wanted to, returning to ‘business as usual’ isn’t possible. Instead, we need bold ideas.”
To be clear, I’m not talking about voluntary donations or philanthropy, but a higher tax for people like myself who are fortunate enough to afford it. We have all been affected by the pandemic, but we know it’s those that have the least who have been hit the hardest. The world has changed irrevocably overnight, lives and livelihoods lost and millions of people around the world pushed even further into poverty. It has been painful for me to watch events unfold, and so I’m determined to help play my part.
Governments are now looking at how economic policies are redesigned to face massive debts, higher unemployment levels, lower growth and renewed uncertainty. Even if we wanted to, returning to ‘business as usual’ isn’t possible. Instead, we need bold ideas which will help us deal with the fallout from the crisis while giving us all an even better chance of an equitable society.
Even before the pandemic prompted governments to dramatically increase spending on healthcare, provide support to those unemployed or businesses which couldn’t operate, we were living in a dangerously unequal world. In many countries, poorer people pay a higher amount in tax as a proportion of their income or wealth compared to richer people like me. Meanwhile, wealth inequality has grown in many countries in recent times. The headline growth rates of recent decades have obscured the fact that many lower income households were hardly doing better before the crisis. Many of these people are worse affected by the crisis now – whether they are putting themselves at risk as key workers, being made redundant, or living with families that are less able to deal with the impacts of Covid-19.
“We feel it’s our duty to help make sure workers to have everything they need to do their jobs properly.”
Just as the crisis has made us more aware of the inequalities in our societies, it has given impetus to ideas about how to overcome these fractures. Governments have taken unprecedented action to assuage the health and economic impacts. We need them to build on the emergency measures taken, by investing in public services which provide healthcare but also deal with underlying inequalities too. This requires more sustainable funding. Part of the answer lies in better tax policies. Those of us who have signed the letter simply say we are prepared – indeed we want – to pay more tax.
I know most of us are not on the frontlines risking our health to look after, transport or provide basic services to those in need. But we feel it’s our duty to help make sure workers to have everything they need to do their jobs properly now and in the future. We know that our collective efforts in tackling the virus will need to be sustained if we want to both ensure our societies recover and that we build back a fairer, more just world.
Gary Stevenson is an economist and former trader. Follow him on Twitter at @garyseconomics
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