The Corner

Regulatory Policy

Going Medieval

( IronHeart/Getty Images)

Writing in Bloomberg, Noah Smith gives more than a nod to Peter Turchin’s theory of elite overproduction (or, as Smith neatly relabels the phenomenon, “elite over-competition”) as a cause of the current wave of turmoil in the West, something with which I would agree but, I think, more emphatically.

Quite what can be done about this problem, I don’t know, but, while I can see the logic behind Smith’s suggestion that “wealth taxes on the greatest fortunes” could be one part of the answer, it is an answer that ought to be too retrograde to be considered.

To take a step back, I’ve always thought that real-estate taxes (other, perhaps, than when levied at a low level in absolute terms) were undesirable for a number of reasons, but one of them was that they make a mockery of the idea of freehold. In essence, they transform all homeowners into tenants of the state.

And a wealth tax represents a variation on the same theme. As I tweeted yesterday, a wealth tax is a sophisticated, lighter touch derivative of feudalism, but the core of it is undeniably the same: The state (‘the king’) has, theoretically, a call on everything you own. And if you think that wealth taxes will always be confined to the very richest, I have an income tax to sell you.

There are many other arguments against wealth taxes, but one that is often overlooked revolves around privacy. Even if a wealth tax is initially (and it will only be initially) confined to the very richest, everyone else will, in all probability, have to confirm to the IRS that they do not fall within that category, and the wealthier they are the more they will have to disclose, another step forward for the panopticon state.

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