Normally progressives like to point to Europe for policy success. Not this time. The experiment with the wealth tax in Europe was a failure in many countries. France’s wealth tax contributed to the exodus of an estimated 42,000 millionaires between 2000 and 2012, among other problems. Only last year, French president Emmanuel Macron killed it.
In 1990, twelve countries in Europe had a wealth tax. Today, there are only three: Norway, Spain, and Switzerland. According to reports by the OECD and others, there were some clear themes with the policy: it was expensive to administer, it was hard on people with lots of assets but little cash, it distorted saving and investment decisions, it pushed the rich and their money out of the taxing countries—and, perhaps worst of all, it didn’t raise much revenue.
UC Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman, whose research helped put wealth inequality back on the American policy agenda, played a part in designing Warren’s wealth tax. He says it was designed explicitly with European failures in mind.
He argues the Warren plan is “very different than any wealth tax that has existed anywhere in the world.” Unlike in the European Union, it’s impossible to freely move to another country or state to escape national taxes. Existing U.S. law also taxes citizens wherever they are, so even if they do sail to a tax haven in the Caribbean, they’re still on the hook. On top of that, Warren’s plan includes an “exit tax,” which would confiscate 40 percent of all a person’s wealth over $50 million if they renounce their citizenship.