The Capital Levy in Theory and Practice
AbstractA capital levy is a one-time tax on all wealth holders with the goal of retiring public debt. This paper reconsiders the historical debate over the capital levy in a contingent capital taxation framework. This shows how in theory the imposition of a levy can be welfare improving when adopted to redress debt problems created by special circumstances, even if its nonrecurrence cannot be guaranteed. If the contingencies in response to which the levy is imposed are fully anticipated, independently verifiable and not under government control, then saving and investment should not fall following the imposition of the levy, nor should the government find it more difficult to raise revenues subsequently. In practice, serious problems stand in the way of implementation. A capital levy has profound distribution consequences. Property owners are sure to resist its adoption. In a democratic society, their objections are guaranteed to cause delay. This provides an opportunity for capital flight, reducing the prospective yield, and allows the special circumstances providing the justification for the levy to recede in the past. The only successful levies occur in cases like post-World War II Japan, where important elements of the democratic process are suppressed and where the fact that the levy was imposed by an outside power minimized the negative impact on the reputation of subsequent sovereign governments.
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Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 3096.
Date of creation: Oct 1991
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Public Debt Management: Theory and History, edited by Dornbusch and Dreghi , pp. 191-220. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
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Other versions of this item:
- Barry Eichengreen., 1989. "The Capital Levy in Theory and Practice," Economics Working Papers 89-117, University of California at Berkeley.
- Eichengreen, Barry, 1989. "The Capital Levy in Theory and Practice," CEPR Discussion Papers 350, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
- Eichengreen, Barry, 1989. "The Capital Levy in Theory and Practice," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt11j4756b, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
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