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The difference between Sanders’ and Warren’s wealth taxes, explained

The difference between Sanders’ and Warren’s wealth taxes, explained

A majority of the American public, a handful of presidential candidates, and a group of ultra-wealthy Americans agree that the United States needs a wealth tax to help close the growing wealth gap. In June, a group of 18 ultra-wealthy Americans referred to Warren’s plan in an open letter begging to be taxed more.

But few people agree on how just how much that tax should be.

Progressive presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders have both released their own wealth tax proposals.

Before Sanders’ unveiled his plan in September, Warren’s plan was the most commonly cited example of a moderate wealth tax. Now, though, Sanders’ “Tax on Extreme Wealth” makes Warren’s “Ultra-Millionaire Tax” “look moderate,” NPR’s Greg Rosalsky wrote.

Here’s a breakdown of how Sanders’ and Warren’s wealth taxes compare. The endpoints of Sanders’ tax brackets overlap, so for the purposes of this chart, Business Insider rounded to the nearest decimal based on standard tax policy. 

how sanders and warrens wealth taxes compare chart


Shayanne Gal/Business Insider


Read more: Wealth tax explainer: Why Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and billionaires like George Soros alike are calling for a specialized tax on the ultra-wealthy

Key differences between Bernie Sanders’ and Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax proposals

As shown in the chart above, Sanders’ plan proposes taxing Americans who have lower net worths than Warren’s plan does. A married couple with a collective net worth above $32 million will have to pay a wealth tax under Sanders’ plan, while couples worth less than $50 million would be exempt from Warren’s tax.

The richest Americans — those with a net worth above $10 billion — would also pay 8% in taxes more Sanders’ plan, substantially more than the 3% proposed by Warren.

The difference between the two plans is perhaps best illustrated by how much their respective authors say they would raise. Warren’s campaign estimates that her wealth tax would raise $2.75 trillion in 10 years, while Sanders’ campaign estimates that his tax would raise $4.35 trillion during the same time period.

Wealth accumulation in the US would look a lot different under a wealth tax 

A study by The University of California at Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman and published in the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity found that if a moderate wealth tax had been introduced in 1982, Jeff Bezos‘ fortune would be half what it was in 2018. Bill Gates, meanwhile, would be $61 billion less rich.

While no such study has been done on Sanders’ proposal, NPR’s Greg Rosalsky reported that it “wouldn’t just slow the growth of wealth at the top. It would essentially stop it.”

Any wealth tax proposal will face substantial headwinds before becoming law, Business Insider previously reported. The constitutionality of such a tax would likely end up debated in front of the Supreme Court, according to former Department of Justice tax attorney James Mann, who is now a tax partner at law firm Greenspoon Marder. Additionally, the revenue raised by the proposed wealth tax would likely be much lower than its advocates expect because of tax evasion, Mann told Business Insider.

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