Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Please Support Common Dreams This #GivingTuesday

Our staff has grown and our coverage of the climate emergency, COVID-19, and rising authoritarianism has intensified over the last two years. But, our expenses during the pandemic have gone up as well. This has been one of the toughest years we’ve ever faced. Donations are down. Traffic to the website from Google and Facebook have inexplicably fallen off a cliff. If we have any chance of meeting our fundraising targets for the year, we need this to be the best #GivingTuesday ever. Though our content is free to all, less than 1% of our readers ever make a donation. We're counting on you. Can you make that gift today to help Common Dreams end the year strong?

Please Help This #GivingTuesday -- Though our content is free to all, less than 1% of our readers give. We’re counting on you. Please help Common Dreams end the year strong.

Billionaire Elon Musk, Tesla boss, comes to the construction site of the Tesla Giga Factory earlier this year. (Photo: Patrick Pleul/dpa-Zentralbild/ZB)

Billionaire Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and currently the world's richest person with an estimated fortune of $220 billion, pictured in 2020. (Photo: Patrick Pleul/dpa-Zentralbild/ZB)

We Need to Tax the Billionaires Right Now

This moment may not last, so we must act fast to make sure these outrageously wealthy individuals and families pay their fair share.

Sarah AndersonChuck Collins

We are in a historic (and potentially very brief!) political moment when progressives have a real shot at winning a path-breaking tax on the nation’s super-wealthy.

"The 400 wealthiest U.S. billionaires paid an average income tax rate of just 8 percent between 2010 and 2018, much lower than most teachers and firefighters."

Just over the past week, a billionaire wealth tax proposal has suddenly moved from the edge to the very center of the negotiating table for President Biden’s sweeping Build Back Better agenda.

What explains the shift? The reasons are both negative and positive.

On the negative side: Kyrsten Sinema.

Last week, the Arizona Senator took a break from high-roller fundraising to inform her colleagues that she opposes even partially undoing the tax rate cuts on corporations and wealthy individuals that Republicans enacted (and she voted against) in 2017. This sent Democrats scrambling for new revenue sources, and Senator Elizabeth Warren and others are sounding optimistic that Sinema might be open to a billionaire tax.

Again on the negative side: pandemic profiteering.

U.S. billionaires have run wild during the crisis, making themselves nearly impossible to defend. Since March 2020, their combined wealth has ballooned by over $2.1 trillion, a gain of 70 percent, according to research by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies. And instead of deploying their fortunes for good on this planet, billionaires have captured headlines with their outer space adventures.

In the positive side: activists taking on the billionaire class.

Many groups that once focused exclusively on poverty are now tackling the top end of the inequality problem and demanding that the rich pay their fair share of expanded child tax credits, universal pre-K, affordable home care, and the many other vital investments in the Build Back Better plan.

Poor People’s Campaign Co-Chair Rev. William J. Barber II, for example, recently excoriated Senator Joe Manchin for denigrating proposed education and health care investments for low-income Americans as wasteful “entitlements” while “treating billionaires like they have the entitlement to make $2 trillion during the pandemic.”

Again on the positive side: explosive investigative research.

An avalanche of new data underscores the need for a tax crackdown on the ultra-wealthy. A new Bloomberg blockbuster shows how Nike founder Phil Knight’s tax games have shrunk his IRS bills by the billions. ProPublica revealed earlier this year that America’s two richest men — Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk — have paid zero in federal income taxes some years. And White House economists recently reported that the 400 wealthiest U.S. billionaires paid an average income tax rate of just 8 percent between 2010 and 2018, much lower than most teachers and firefighters.

So how would a billionaire wealth tax work?

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden is expected to release the details shortly, but we know that his plan makes billionaires pay annual taxes on their increased wealth. This is key, since the ultra-rich get the vast bulk of their money from investments rather than from paychecks like most of the rest of us.

The tax is expected to target people with $1 billion in assets or more than $100 million in income three years in a row. Every year the tiny fraction of Americans in this elite group would pay a tax on the increase in value of stock and other tradable financial assets. They would owe a tax on gains from real estate and other less liquid assets when they sell them, along with annual interest fees.

The proposal could raise hundreds of billions of dollars over a decade but not enough to cover the full Build Back Better plan. Given our country’s many pressing needs, we must keep up the heat on conservative Democrats to embrace a full fair tax toolbox. These should include raising top income and corporate tax rates, closing loopholes, and other innovative reforms on the table, such as a surtax on mega-millionaires and excise taxes to discourage excessive CEO pay and wasteful corporate stock buybacks.

But the billionaire wealth tax merits an extra push since it is the most powerful tool on the table for tackling the wealthy inequality that is undermining our economy and threatening our democracy. Americans for Tax Fairness has set up a handy one-stop site with billionaire tax fact sheets, polling, and other action tools.

Democratic leaders are saying that such a tax is “likely” to be in the Build Back Better legislation. But lobbyists for the ultra-rich will be fighting to whack it out before the final votes, which could come as soon as this week.

The window is narrow. But it is open.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
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 of "99 to 1: The Moral Measure of the Economy" and, 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.

WHO, South Africa Urge Nations to Lift 'Naive' Omicron Travel Bans

"The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic."

Brett Wilkins ·


EU Joins Rights Group in Condemning Israel's 'Day of Destruction' of Palestinian Homes

"Demolitions are illegal under international law and significantly undermine the prospects for peace."

Brett Wilkins ·


GOP 'Silence Speaks Volumes,' Says Ilhan Omar as Boebert's Bigotry Goes Unpunished

"Normalizing this bigotry not only endangers my life but the lives of all Muslims. Anti-Muslim bigotry has no place in Congress."

Brett Wilkins ·


Africans Should Be 'Applauded, Not Punished,' Say Advocates Amid Omicron Travel Ban

"What is going on right now is inevitable," said African Union Vaccine Delivery Alliance co-chair Dr. Ayoade Alakija. "It's a result of the world's failure to vaccinate in an equitable, urgent, and speedy manner."

Brett Wilkins ·


Biden Drilling Report Blasted as 'Shocking Capitulation to the Needs of Corporate Polluters'

"Greenlighting more fossil fuel extraction, then pretending it's OK by nudging up royalty rates, is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic," said one campaigner.

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo