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Collective Wealth | A Baha'i Perspective on taxation

READ > Profit Sharing

Other proposals ‘Abdu’l-Bahá offers [about economic Justice] include progressive taxation based on needs. He writes, for example, that

each person in the community whose income is equal to his individual producing capacity shall be exempt from taxation. But if his income is greater than his needs, he must pay a tax until an adjustment is effected. That is to say, a man’s capacity for production and his needs will be equalized and reconciled through taxation. If his production exceeds he will pay a tax; if his necessities exceed his production he shall receive an amount sufficient to equalize or adjust. Therefore, taxation will be proportionate to capacity and production and there will be no poor in the community.

Today, the majority of government revenues come from individual income taxes. Interestingly, in many countries, individuals have become richer while their governments have become poorer, as reflected in the net share of public and private capital held in each country. To illustrate, consider the case of Germany. In 2015, the value of net public wealth (i.e., public capital) stood at 18 percent of national income. Private wealth, on the other hand, stood at over 420 percent of national income. By way of comparison, net public wealth in the United States in 2015 was -17 percent of national income, whereas private capital stood at over 500 percent.

This unequal ownership of capital—between private citizens and the state—may also explain rising inequality. In the 1980s, there were demonstrably large transfers of public to private wealth in nearly all countries. While national wealth has substantially increased, public wealth is now negative or close to zero in rich countries. Arguably this limits the ability of governments to tackle inequality. But more than that, it eats away at things like trust and social cohesion, so essential for a stable, prosperous society. When governments, that is, consistently take more from the poor than the rich, establishing and maintaining trust in public institutions becomes increasingly difficult.

The idea is not to punish wealth but to avoid the privatization—and hence polarization—of society, whereby only those with means can afford things like quality education and healthcare. The solution called for by a number of progressive economists includes a combination of policies aimed at, on the one hand, redistribution—for example, a steeply progressive tax not just on income but on wealth and effective corporate taxation strategies to curb tax avoidance—and, on the other, pre-distribution—that is, sufficient social spending to fund a modern, social welfare state with strong investments in education and healthcare to ensure everyone has an equal chance to succeed, as well as labor market regulations that do not allow for extreme wage dispersion.

READ > Aspiring as Individuals Towards a Just Economy

Originally published from Baha'i World

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