Art Basel Makes a Case against the Wealth Tax

A woman poses for a photo next to a banana attached with duct-tape that replaces the artwork Comedian by the artist Maurizio Cattelan, which was eaten by David Datuna, in Miami Beach, Fla., December 7, 2019. (Eva Marie Uzcategui/Reuters)
Wealthy individuals could reduce their tax liability through owning luxury art, which cannot be tracked. Consumption taxes would be more efficient.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE E arlier this month, the annual Art Basel Miami show, one of the art industry’s largest events, was held. This year an art installation titled “Comedian,” by Maurizio Cattelan, which consisted, in its entirety, of a banana duct-taped to a wall, was surprisingly auctioned for $120,000. Some decried this as an exuberant display of excess, highlighting the current state of wealth inequality.

Such critics, such as Berkeley economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, have argued that this type of “unnecessary” wealth should be extracted by the state with a wealth tax. However, such art sales in fact make the opposite case, against the wealth tax, given how

Jon Hartley is a master’s student at the Harvard Kennedy School and a visiting fellow at the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity. He formerly served as a senior policy adviser to the Congressional Joint Economic Committee.


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