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The billionaire tax – a (modest) proposal for the 21st century

WIDER Annual Lecture 28

The billionaire tax – a (modest) proposal for the 21st century


As recent projections warn that we’re off-track to reduce poverty for the 2030 deadline of the Sustainable Development Goals, the pressing need for equitable tax systems takes center stage at the 28th WIDER Annual Lecture. Esteemed economist Gabriel Zucman examines how disparities of current tax structures guarantee this inequality is persistent due to advantages enjoyed by the ultra-wealthy.

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Advocating for a new form of multilateralism focused on rooting out the inequalities that can otherwise corrode democratic societies, Zucman proposes a coordinated minimum tax equal to 2% of wealth for the world’s super-rich. This approach aims to generate an additional $250 billion in tax revenues from a select group of 3,000 billionaires, underscoring the profound wealth concentration and advocating for a fairer distribution system.

Zucman’s insights extend beyond fiscal reforms, highlighting the environmental toll of businesses contributing to the wealth of the ultra-rich, and emphasizing the broader societal and ecological benefits of redistributing wealth. His call for international cooperation echoes the potential to bolster social services and environmental initiatives in the Global South. This dialogue, amplified by Brazil's pioneering role in G20 discussions, marks a historic pivot towards global fiscal equity.

About the event

The WIDER Annual Lecture is one of UNU-WIDER’s flagship events, a tradition started by Douglas C. North in 1997. Over the years, it has hosted a series of prestigious scholars and policymakers, including four Nobel Laureates, to discuss contemporary global issues. The 28th lecture promises to continue this legacy with Gabriel Zucman's analysis on the implementation of a global wealth tax to address global inequality.

Join us as Gabriel Zucman discusses the urgent need to rectify global inequality through a new form of international economic cooperation. Zucman will explore the possibility of implementing a coordinated minimum tax, proposing a rate of 2% of wealth for the world's super-rich. This measure could significantly aid in funding social and environmental initiatives, particularly benefiting the Global South.

Biographies

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Description automatically generatedGabriel Zucman, born in Paris in 1986, is professor of economics at the Paris School of Economics and Ecole normale supérieure – PSL, associate professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and founding director of the EU Tax Observatory.

He is the author of articles published in journals such as the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the American Economic Review, the Review of Economic Studies, and of two books. His research focuses on the accumulation, distribution, and taxation of global wealth and has renewed the analysis of the macroeconomic and distributional implications of globalization.

In a series of papers and in his book The Hidden Wealth of Nations, he has developed methods to measure the wealth held in tax havens. This research finds that about 8% of the world’s household financial wealth is held in tax havens, with large variation across countries — from a few percent in Scandinavia to 50% in Russia. Data leaked from offshore financial institutions (such as the Panama Papers) suggest that offshore wealth is highly concentrated and frequently evades taxation.

A second strand of research combines theory and empirics to quantify the redistributive effects of international tax competition. The results suggest that close to 40% of multinational corporate profits are shifted to tax havens globally and more than 50% for US multinationals. This profit shifting has redistributive implications across countries and social groups. Granular results of this research, available at MissingProfits.world, make it possible to assess alternative forms of taxation of multinational companies, such as minimum taxes and the use of apportionment formulas.

With the members of the World Inequality Lab, he has developed prototype distributional national accounts, statistics that decompose macroeconomic growth by social group annually and in real time. With Emmanuel Saez, he has constructed series on the distribution of US wealth and with Thomas Piketty he has studied inequality in ChinaRussia, and the accumulation of capital in rich countries back to 1700. The results are available on the World Inequality Database and on RealTimeInequality.org for the United States.

Another area of research analyzes the economic effects of wealth taxation on capital accumulation, international mobility, inequality, tax avoidance, and tax evasion in FranceDenmarkother European countries, and the United States. These studies shed light on current debates about the desirability and practicality of taxing wealth.

The Triumph of Injustice, written with Emmanuel Saez, presents an analysis of the progressivity of the US tax system taking into account all taxes at all levels of government since the creation of the income tax in 1913. The book, supplemented by an open-source tax reform simulator, proposes to reinvent progressive taxation around three pillars: a progressive wealth tax, a new way to tax multinational companies, and a national income tax. It was awarded the Hans Matthöfer Prize and the Colbert Prize.

Gabriel Zucman received his PhD in 2013 from the Paris School of Economics and taught at the London School of Economics before joining the Berkeley faculty in 2015.

He received the John Bates Clark medal of the American Economic Association in 2023. In 2021 he was named an Andrew Carnegie Fellow. He was awarded the Bernacer Prize and a Sloan Research Fellowship in 2019, the Best Young French Economist Prize awarded by Le Monde and le Cercle des Economistes in 2018, and the Excellence Award in Global Economic Affairs from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy in 2017.

Programme

Event starts 15:30 UTC+3 Helsinki
14:30 London
09:30 New York
19:00 Mumbai

15:00-15:30Registration
15:30-15:40Welcoming remarks by Kunal Sen (Director, UNU-WIDER)
15:40-16:25Lecture by Gabriel Zucman (Professor, Paris School of Economics and UC Berkeley) (45 minutes)
16:25-16:35Remarks from discussant Emmi Oikari (Director, Development Finance and Private Sector Cooperation, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland) (10 minutes)
16:35-17:20Audience Q&A (45 minutes)
17:20-17:30Closing remarks by Patricia Justino (Deputy Director, UNU-WIDER) (10 minutes)
17:30-18:30Reception