Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The millionaires who want to pay more tax

Britain's Times newspaper has a fascinating article about a group of German millionaires who want major redistribution of wealth. It starts:

Let’s try to imagine, against the odds, that this is a story set in Britain: a group of wealthy heirs, industrialists and entrepreneurs, men and women who are rich enough not to work, who have enough money, property or dividends to allow them to live comfortably for the rest of their lives, decide instead to give their money away.

They decide to do this not out of guilt but because they believe that their wealth carries with it responsibility and because they are seriously worried about the widening gap between rich and poor that they see opening up before them in the society in which they live. They want to give their money away, but they do not want to do so in occasional fits of philanthropy, or through endowments, or via the series of charity bashes that has always formed the backbone of the wealthy person’s social calendar, but quite systematically — by publicly campaigning to pay more tax. Taxation, in their opinion, is unfairly skewed in their favour"

Now that's an intriguing story, almost unbelievable to those of us accustomed to the idea that rich people are inevitably greedy and grasping for tax breaks.

"The German initiative, the Vermögende für eine Vermögensabgabe (Wealthy people in favour of a wealth tax), was launched last spring: 21 wealthy individuals signed up to the campaign, which aimed to convince the grand coalition Government to reinstate meaningful levels of property tax."

And we are delighted to see this:

"On top of the tax increase, he and his members want to see tax havens shut down and strict regulation of the financial markets."

This initiative has stirred a country-wide debate in Germany, but nothing comparable has happened in the UK, which has an even more unequal society and performs far less well than Germany on a wide variety of social indicators. Why not? One reason, according to TJN's John Christensen, lies with the free-rider mentality that has emerged in Britain in the past 30 years. He also suggests that while modern Germany is alert to the dangers posed by inequality, the issue is scarcely discussed in Britain: "There is a debate going on there about inequality and its repercussions that desperately needs to happen here."

Read the whole article. We'll leave you this, from one of the millionaires:

“People talk here about a split between East and West, or between rich and poor, or between immigrants and those who have been born and brought up here,” Vollmer says. “But the most decisive split is the one that exists between those who feel that wealth is a social responsibility and those who do not."


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