As we have vociferously warned since September 2011, and most recently as the Cyprus debacle exploded explained why it is just beginning, Germany’s Council of Economic Experts (or so-called ‘Five Wise Men’) just confirmed a wealth tax is coming. As the Telegraph reports, confirming our expectations, Germany warns that states in trouble must pay more for their own salvation, arguing that there is enough wealth in homes and private assets across the Mediterranean to cover bail-out costs. They further added that targeting deposit-holders is also a mistake, since the “resourceful rich just move their money to banks in northern Europe and avoid paying,” preferring instead taxes on property or other less-mobile assets, “for example, over the next 10 years, the rich should give up a portion of their assets.” As we noted here and here, the differences between mean and median wealth in the peripheral nations suggest that people in the bailed-out countries are often better-off than those in Germany – – “this shows that Germany has been right to take a tough line of euro rescue loans.” However, the implications of a wealth tax – implicitly impacting the pro-euro Southern European uber-rich – raises the specter of EU breakup once again.
Via The Telegraph,
Any serious move to a wealth tax could the erode the pro-euro ardour of South Europe’s uber-rich. The ECB bond buying policy has largely rescued the wealthiest strata while the full brunt of EMU austerity has fallen on ordinary people and the unemployed.
The political debate on euro membership may change dramatically if rich Cypriots, Italians, Spaniards, and Portuguese start to see EMU as a threat to their property, rather than a defence.
Via Der Spiegel,
Prof Lars Feld, another “wise man”, highlighted a recent study by the European Central Bank, which Germans say show that the people in bailed-out countries are often better-off than those in Germany. Less than half of Germans own their own home, lower than the rate in many southern eurozone members.
The ECB study found that the “median” wealth in Cyprus is €267,000 (£227,600), compared to just €51,000 in Germany. The median or midpoint level – which strips out the distorting effect of the super-rich – was €183,000 for Spain, €172,000 for Italy, and €102,000 for Greece, and even €75,000 for Portugal. Average wealth in Cyprus is €671,000, far higher than in the four AAA creditor states: Austria (€265,000), Germany (€195,000), Holland (€170,000), Finland (€161,000).
Prof Feld said the report showed that people in the crisis countries are richer than the Germans. “This shows that Germany has been right to take a tough line of euro rescue loans,” he said.
As Mark Grant comments:
Here may be the next “one-off” and it is a frightening one. A tax on “wealth and property” would almost certainly include equities and bonds. This then would mean that dividends and fixed income coupons would be taxed. This would ostensibly mean that if you were a U.S. money manager and that you owned securities in any Eurozone debtor states that you could get taxed on your investments. Then go one step further because if the debtor nation got into trouble you could have your holdings expropriated just like the depositors in Cyprus. This is scary stuff in my opinion.