Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Central to the program should be a tax that limits the further accumulation—that is, hoarding—of wealth by the billionaire class. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Central to the program should be a tax that limits the further accumulation—that is, hoarding—of wealth by the billionaire class. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Taxes Paid By Billionaires Decreased 79 Percent Since 1980, as Percentage of Their Wealth

As we emerge from this pandemic, substantial tax increases are inevitable. Central to the program should be a tax that limits the hoarding of wealth by the billionaire class.

Bob LordChuck Collins

 by Inequality.org

Conventional economic wisdom says a time of crisis is not the moment to enact tax increases. But, as Eric Toder at the Tax Policy Center recently pointed out: “[Tax experts] can begin to think of the time after the pandemic passes and how government should respond to massive increases in the public debt, and the new tax increases that Congress will need to enact to fund them.”

Initial tax increases should hold harmless working- and middle-class families who will be the most economically vulnerable coming out the pandemic. The first several trillion in new revenue should come from America’s wealthiest households, those who have seen their taxes slashed over past decades.

At the top of the list of new tax increases should be a wealth tax on our billionaire class.

A new Institute for Policy Studies Inequality briefing paper, authored by Bob Lord, reveals that between 1980 and 2018, the taxes paid by America’s billionaires, when measured as a percentage of their wealth, decreased a staggering 79 percent.

The only appropriate metric by which to measure the tax burden on billionaires, the briefing paper explains, is the rate of tax they pay on their wealth. Unlike the rest of us, the living expenses of billionaires do not constrain their accumulation of wealth. Nor do they rely on their work to generate additional wealth. For billionaires, the accumulation of wealth is driven forward almost exclusively by the growth of their existing wealth and constrained almost exclusively by the tax they are required to pay. No matter how the taxes imposed on billionaires are determined – by income, consumption, property ownership, transfers by gift or bequest – they function only as a tax on wealth.

By allowing the tax burden of billionaires, as a percentage of their wealth, to plummet since 1980, policymakers have caused the nation’s wealth to concentrate obscenely at the very top. In the 12 years between 2006 and 2018, IPS reports, nearly 7 percent of America’s real increase in wealth, measured in 2018 dollars, went to the top 400 billionaires. If the pattern of the past four decades does not change, an even greater share of the nation’s newly created wealth over the next 12 years will flow to the billionaire class.

As we emerge from this pandemic with trillions of additional debt on the nation’s balance sheet, substantial tax increases are inevitable.  Early out of the box should be a 10 percent surtax on the incomes of the top 0.1 percent of households, including on capital income. We should also strengthen the estate tax to limit the intergenerational transfers of wealth of billionaires.  But central to the program should be a tax that limits the further accumulation – that is, hoarding – of wealth by the billionaire class. That, the IPS report concluded, requires a wealth tax:

Only an annual wealth tax—a direct tax on billionaire wealth—can reliably limit the Billionaire Class rate of wealth accumulation to a level no greater than wealth accumulation for the population at large. Other forms of taxation have valid purposes. But to rein in the Billionaire Class we need something more. And rein in we must.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Bob Lord

Bob Lord

Bob Lord is Senior Advisor, Tax Policy at Patriotic Millionaires and an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow.

Chuck Collins

Chuck Collins

Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies where he co-edits Inequality.org, and is author of the new book, "Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good."  He is co-founder of Wealth for the Common Good, recently merged with the Patriotic Millionaires. He is co-author, with Bill Gates Sr., of "Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes."

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Donald Trump Has Finally Run Out of Places to Hide' as House Dems Get Tax Returns

"It's no longer a question of if he's hiding something big," one watchdog group asserted, "it's a question of what he's hiding."

Brett Wilkins ·


Democrats, Progressive Groups Push DOJ to Publish Database of 'Corporate Lawbreaking'

"The Corporate Crime Database Act will bring transparency to the corporate crime crisis so that the DOJ and other law enforcement agencies can better reckon with this greed-driven menace," said one advocate.

Kenny Stancil ·


As Corporations Enjoy Record-High Profits, Experts Urge Congress to 'Rein Them In'

"Today's record corporate profits mirror what we have been hearing on earnings call after earnings call: Corporations are gleefully reporting that their strategy to burden families with unnecessary price hikes is working."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Egregious': PFAS Firefighting Foam Spills at Notorious Red Hill Naval Facility in Hawaii

While officials said there is no evidence that drinking water was contaminated, the incident generated further local frustration with the closing fuel storage complex.

Jessica Corbett ·


House Passes Paid Sick Leave for Railway Workers Despite Opposition of 207 Republicans

"Now let's get it through the Senate," said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who led the fight to add seven days of paid sick leave to a White House-brokered contract that failed to provide any to railroad workers.

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo