When Jamie Dimon Tells You Not to Tax Something, You Should Probably Do the Opposite.
J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon wants us all to know that taxing wealth is a terrible idea because America’s wealthiest would “find a million ways around it.” When Dimon says he knows how to avoid taxes, we believe him — but his argument against a wealth tax amounts to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
Tax avoidance is, as Dimon implies, a real concern. But it’s a pervasive ongoing problem with each of the taxes we already levy, not a hypothetical scenario created by a wealth tax. As IRS data show, the federal government loses more than $380 billion a year to tax avoidance, with wealthy Americans hiding everything from wages to capital gains to business income. The proper response to evidence of tax cheating is not to give up, as Dimon would have us do — it’s to give the IRS the tools it needs to enforce the law.
Moreover, as ITEP’s Steve Wamhoff has written, tax policy experts have given serious thought to dealing with the technical and measurement hurdles that would be involved with enacting a wealth tax. Wamhoff outlines straightforward strategies for valuing the currently-unmeasured intangible assets that would be subject to a wealth tax. What might have been impossible in the 20th century seems much more attainable in the age of computers and big data. And the same reporting requirements that are helping to clamp down on capital gains tax avoidance right now would make it far easier to implement a wealth tax.
Dimon’s right about one thing: there are flaws in our existing taxes that should be fixed in the name of tax fairness. Repealing the special low tax rate for capital gains and reducing the estate tax exemption from its absurdly high $11 million per spouse would be a great start. But these steps would just help undo some of the high-end tax cuts enacted over the past two decades and should be seen as a complement to a wealth tax — not a substitute.