In his November investment commentary for bond giant Pimco, Mr. Gross asks the “Scrooge McDucks of the world” to accept higher personal income taxes and to stop expecting capital to be taxed at lower rates than labor. As for the IMF, its latest Fiscal Monitor report argues that taxing the wealthy offers “significant revenue potential at relatively low efficiency costs.” The context for this argument is the IMF’s expectation that in advanced economies the ratio of public debt to gross domestic product will reach a historic peak of 110% next year, 35 percentage points above its 2007 level.
What the IMF calls “revenue-maximizing top income tax rates” may be a good indication of how much further those rates could rise: As the IMF calculates, the average revenue-maximizing rate for the main Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development countries is around 60%, way above existing levels.
For the U.S., it is 56% to 71%—far more than the current 45% paid in federal, state and local taxes by those in the top tax bracket. The IMF singles out the U.S. as the country where raising top rates toward 70% (where they were before the Reagan tax cuts) would yield the most revenue—around 1.25% of GDP. And with a chilling candor, the IMF admits that its revenue-maximizing approach takes no account of the well-being of top earners (or their businesses).
Of course these measures won’t return the world’s top economies to sustainable levels of debt. That could be achieved only through significant economic growth (the good way) or, as the IMF puts it, “by repudiating public debt or inflating it away” (the bad way). In October the IMF floated a bold idea that didn’t get the attention it deserved: lowering sovereign debt levels through a one-off tax on private wealth.
From New York to London, Paris and beyond, powerful economic players are deciding that with an ever-deteriorating global fiscal outlook, conventional levels and methods of taxation will no longer suffice. That makes weapons of mass wealth destruction—such as the IMF’s one-off capital levy, Cyprus’s bank deposit confiscation, or outright sovereign defaults—likelier by the day. - (WSJ)