A 20% wealth tax on the mega rich would raise up to £800bn

If Nick Clegg is serious about introducing a wealth tax, here's how it could work.

The government's solution to the economic crisis is swingeing cuts in public services. David Cameron claims, Thatcher-style, that cuts are the only option. Not true. There are serious alternatives.

Even Nick Clegg seems to now realise this, with his recent proposal for a wealth tax. The only problem is that he hasn't spelt out the details. There are no specifics.

So let me help out the Lib Dem leader with an idea of how it could work. A one-off graduated 20 per cent wealth tax on the richest 10 per cent of the population would raise £800bn – more than enough to create the jobs needed to revive the economy and a concrete way to avoid harmful cuts in public services.

The wealthiest 10 per cent of the population have combined personal assets totalling four million, million pounds. This is a million pounds multiplied four million times. Many of these people have multi-million pound homes (often several of them), plus private yachts and jets and vast art collections. They can easily afford a once-only 20 per cent tax on their immense wealth. Selling off one of their six houses, a Lamborghini car or a Jackson Pollack painting won’t cause them to suffer. Indeed, it is in their self-interest to pay this tax because if we slip into a new depression they will lose much more than 20 per cent of their wealth.

The 20 per cent tax rate would be the average. People at the less rich end of the richest 10 per cent would probably pay a wealth tax of only one per cent, while those at the very richest end might pay 30 per cent. Everyone would be assessed individually. No one would be made to pay in ways that caused them hardship. The tax would be assessed and collected in the same way as other taxes, such as income tax and capital gains tax. People could be given the option to defer payment until after they die, so it would become a tax on their estate.

By raising a massive £800bn, this tax would be enough to pay off the entire government deficit more than four times over - or it could be used to clear most of the national debt. A reduction in the national debt would dramatically cut the government’s huge debt interest payments, which amount to nearly £50bn a year. This vast sum of money would be better spent on schools, hospitals, pensions and job creation.

Alternatively, and even more useful in terms of reviving the economy, the £800bn (or part of it) could be used to fund the proposed Green New Deal. Modelled on Roosevelt’s 1930s New Deal, which got America back to work and helped end the Great Depression, the Green New Deal would create hundreds of thousands of green jobs in energy conservation, renewable energy, public transport and affordable homes; simultaneously helping remedy climate destruction and kick-starting economic recovery.

It could ensure that Britain leads the world in sustainable economics and green technologies, opening up new export markets and boosting our economic revival for many decades to come.

According to a YouGov poll in June 2010, 74 per cent of the public favour a one-off tax on the richest people in Britain. Only 10 per cent oppose it.

With great wealth comes great responsibility. The mega rich have the capacity and responsibility to help the country out of the mess we are in. They benefited disproportionately from the boom times. Now that times are tough they should contribute disproportionately to get the British economy back in shape.

Put bluntly: The super rich have a patriotic duty to help save the economy by paying more tax. If they love Britain, they will be willing to do this, in order to help us win through the current economic crisis.

Contributing more tax is in the interest of those with huge wealth. If the economy fails, their losses will be even more than the increased tax they are being asked to pay. By giving more to the exchequer they would be doing the morally right thing for the country and its citizens. Moreover, by helping save the economy they would also save most of their own riches. It’s enlightened self-interest. Over to you, Nick Clegg.

Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg. Photograph: Getty Images

Peter Tatchell is Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, which campaigns for human rights the UK and worldwide: www.PeterTatchellFoundation.org His personal biography can be viewed here: www.petertatchell.net/biography.htm

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle