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Over the Top: Why an Annual Wealth Tax for Canada is Unnecessary

Robin Boadway () and Pierre Pestieau ()

C.D. Howe Institute Commentary, 2019, issue 546

Abstract: The idea of a wealth tax has taken on new prominence since French economist Thomas Piketty famously proposed a global wealth tax in 2013; Senator Elizabeth Warren has even made a national wealth tax a plank in her campaign to become the Democratic presidential candidate in 2020. The current interest in wealth taxation is a response to the increase in wealth concentration and income inequality that has occurred in most OECD countries. It has been well documented that both income and wealth inequality have risen significantly in recent decades. In this Commentary, we critically evaluate the case for an annual wealth tax as part of Canada’s tax system. To do so, we review current received wisdom on the elements of a good tax system, drawing on the normative tax design literature and best practices. We do not address the issue of how responsive tax policy needs to be to deal with the evolving inequality of income and wealth. Our focus, instead, is on the mix of policy instruments that are most effective for whatever degree of responsiveness policymakers choose. Our argument is that wealth taxes add relatively little to the taxes on capital and capital income that are already in place, and that concerns about the social consequences of wealth concentration are better addressed by reform of existing capital income taxes and by considering wealth transfer (inheritance) taxation. Our argument against wealth taxation is over and above the substantial administrative challenges in measurement, collection and coverage for annual wealth taxes. These alone are enough to raise red flags about wealth taxation. For our part, we rely on the more fundamental argument that annual net wealth taxes are unnecessary since their objectives can be better achieved by suitably designed taxes on capital income and wealth transfers.

Keywords: Fiscal and Tax Policy; Incentives to Save; Property Taxes (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: H21 H23 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2019
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