The millionaires who want to pay more taxes

Despite being (very) rich, conscientious millionaires and billionaires are calling for much higher wealth taxes to combat the rising inequality they see as a threat to democracy.

Published On: April 2nd, 2024

Marlene Engelhorn, founder of the "Tax me now" movement. ©Jan Zappner/re:publica

Far from being a flash in the pan, it’s become a growing movement: in recent years, heirs and business leaders in the USA, the UK and Europe have joined forces to make their voices heard, and denounce the fact that they are the biggest winners from tax reforms. Their campaigns have even led to a high-profile joint action at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last January, with a letter addressed to the world’s political and business leaders.

A pioneering movement, Patriotic Millionaires was founded in 2010 in the United States, and today brings together some 200 American millionaires concerned about historic levels of inequality.

On the eve of the 2024 election campaign, and with Donald Trump ahead of Joe Biden in the polls, the Patriotic Millionaires website reminds us that they “did not start this organisation for any altruistic or charitable purposes; we started it because the stability of our nation and the survival of our democracy is threatened by extreme inequality (…). This year will be pivotal in shaping our country, and our world, in the decades to come”.

A British branch, Patriotic Millionaires UK, was founded ten years later, in 2021, “to change the current economic system which is failing us all” and “accelerate the end of extreme wealth”. Its mission is to use the voice of the wealthy to “build a more just, stable, and inclusive economy – in the UK and beyond”.

Within the European Union, it’s German-Austrian Marlene Engelhorn, 31, who has been carrying the torch for several years. In 2021, she co-founded the Tax Me Now movement, which brings together Austrian millionaires who demand to be “adequately taxed” in order to “solve the crises” faced by a country that abolished its inheritance tax in 2008. When her grandmother died in 2022, Engelhorn was set to inherit the family fortune of the founder of German chemical and pharmaceutical giant BASF. Engelorn decided to bequeath 90 percent of her fortune, 25 million euro, to society at large, creating a civic assembly made up of 50 representatives of the Austrian population, who are charged with studying the modalities of redistribution.

“I was born into a rich family, and I’m about to inherit a fortune that I’ve never had to work for,” she explained to her YouTube audience, and to the German-language press. “It’s not up to millionaires to decide whether or not they make a fair contribution to the societies in which they live, without which they would never have become millionaires in the first place.”

Together with Patriotic Millionaires, Patriotic Millionaires UK, Oxfam and Millionaires for Humanity (an international network of multimillionaires campaigning for a 1 percent wealth tax), Tax Me Now took the Proud To Pay More initiative to Davos. This call for a wealth tax already has the signatures of 260 millionaires and billionaires: “The solution is clear. You, our representatives in the world, must tax us, the ultra-rich, and you must start now. (…) It’s an investment in our common good and in a better future (…) And as millionaires, we want to make that investment.”

Presented along with this initiative, a survey of 2,300 people from the wealthiest 5 percent in G20 countries, conducted last December by the British institute Survation, indicates that this demand is gaining ground. More than three-quarters of those polled said they were in favour of higher taxes on wealth, and 54 percent believe that “extreme wealth represents a threat to democracy”.

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