Here's how much smaller the top 11 billionaires' fortunes would be if Bernie Sanders' or Elizabeth Warren's proposed wealth tax had been around since 1982

Joseph Zeballos-Roig
Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg

Gerard Julian/AFP and Nicolas Liponne/NurPhoto


  • Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have put forward the two most ambitious plans in the Democratic primary field to tax the wealth of the richest Americans, shrink their giant fortunes, and curb their economic power.
  • Income inequality in the US is reaching levels not seen since the 1920s, researchers say, sparking a fierce debate among Democratic candidates about how to narrow it.
  • "At the top, wealth is no longer about insurance — it's really about power. Having a lot of wealth allows you to have disproportionate influence on society," Emmanuel Saez, an economist, told Business Insider.
  • Here's how much smaller the top 11 billionaires' fortunes would be if Sanders' or Warren's proposed wealth tax had been around since 1982, the first year Forbes magazine started estimating wealth.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have put forward the two most ambitious plans in the Democratic primary field to tax the wealth of the richest Americans and shrink their giant fortunes.

Both Sanders and Warren aim to sharply curb the economic power that the superrich have amassed in recent decades — and use the money to finance new social programs like "Medicare for All" and tuition-free college to benefit working-class Americans.

Research has found that the nation's riches are increasingly confined at the top of the economic pyramid.

Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, economists who have provided analysis for both Warren and Sanders' campaigns, found that the 400 richest Americans had more wealth than the 150 million adults in the bottom 60% of wealth distribution, The Washington Post reported in February.

"Wealth for the ordinary American family is safety. It allows you to absorb economic shocks such as losing a job," Saez told Business Insider. "At the top, wealth is no longer about insurance — it's really about power. Having a lot of wealth allows you to have disproportionate influence on society."

What Sanders' and Warren's wealth taxes look like

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Warren is seeking to redistribute capitalism's rewards to a larger share of the population. Her plan would kick in at $50 million, with households paying a 2% annual tax on their assets like stocks, paintings, yachts, and homes, ramping up to 6% for households with fortunes over $1 billion.

It's distinct from Sanders' plan, which focuses on the existence of billionaires. The Vermont senator would impose a 1% annual tax on net worths of $32 million, gradually increasing to 8% on fortunes above $10 billion.

However, since Warren recently increased her plan's top tax rate to 6% from 3%, both plans are now "almost identical" in terms of possible revenue generation and overall redistributive effects, Saez said.

Critics have argued that the taxes wouldn't be effective because they would harm economic growth. Economists have also argued that the wealthy people subject to the taxes would use accounting to evade them and shelter their assets.

With that in mind, here's how much smaller the fortunes of the richest 11 US citizens would be if Sanders' or Warren's proposed wealth tax had been around since 1982, the first year Forbes magazine started estimating wealth.

These figures assume no evasion rate and are based on estimates from Saez and Zucman.



Walmart heir Jim Walton — actual 2018 net worth: $45.2 billion

Rick T. Wilking /Stringer/Getty

Net worth under Warren's revised wealth tax: $7.8 billion

Net worth under Sanders' wealth tax: $5 billion



Bloomberg LP founder Michael Bloomberg — actual 2018 net worth: $51.8 billion

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Net worth under Warren's revised wealth tax: $12.3 billion

Net worth under Sanders' wealth tax: $11.3 billion

Earlier this year, Bloomberg suggested that a wealth tax could be unconstitutional and raised the prospect of America turning into Venezuela.



Google founder Sergey Brin — actual 2018 net worth: $52.4 billion

Ruben Sprich/Reuters

Net worth under Warren's revised wealth tax: $21.4 billion

Net worth under Sanders' wealth tax: $19 billion



Koch Industries executives Charles and David Koch — actual 2018 net worth: $53.5 billion each

Net worth under Warren's revised wealth tax: $7.9 billion

Net worth under Sanders' wealth tax: $8 billion

David Koch died in August, and it is unclear what will happen to his estate. He was included in Saez and Zucman's analysis since it examines the wealthiest US citizens as of the end of 2018.



Google founder Larry Page — actual 2018 net worth: $53.8 billion

Reuters

Net worth under Warren's revised wealth tax: $22 billion

Net worth under Sanders' wealth tax: $19.5 billion



Oracle founder Larry Ellison — actual 2018 net worth: $58.4 billion

Justin Sullivan / Staff / Getty Images

Net worth under Warren's revised wealth tax: $10.3 billion

Net worth under Sanders' wealth tax: $8.5 billion



Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg — actual 2018 net worth: $61 billion

GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images

Net worth under Warren's revised wealth tax: $32.5 billion

Net worth under Sanders wealth tax: $28.6 billion

Last month, Zuckerberg expressed concern in a Fox News interview that eliminating billionaires would hurt competition, though he said he was uneasy with the level of inequality in the United States.

"I think it's good that there are different philanthropies and different organizations that can put competing ideas out about how to do research or science," he said, adding, "I fundamentally believe in that competition that you want different ideas out there."



Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett — actual 2018 net worth: $88.3 billion

Alex Wong / Getty Images

Net worth under Warren's revised wealth tax: $10.4 billion

Net worth under Sanders' wealth tax: $8.2 billion

Buffett has said he favors taxing the rich more heavily.



Microsoft founder Bill Gates — actual 2018 net worth: $97 billion

Yana Paskova/Getty Images

Net worth under Warren's revised wealth tax: $13.9 billion

Net worth under Sanders' wealth tax: $9.9 billion

Last week, Gates joked that he didn't know how much money he'd have left over if a wealth tax were implemented but defended the amount of money he'd paid the government.

He also said that he was open to paying more and that he backed additional taxes for the wealthy.



Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — actual 2018 net worth: $160 billion

David Ryder/Getty Images

Net worth under Warren's revised wealth tax: $48.8 billion

Net worth under Sanders' wealth tax: $43 billion