'I'm a Millionaire. We Should Be Taxed More'

At the end of May, I was at the World Economic Forum in Davos protesting with Patriotic Millionaires. As an organization, we have a counter intuitive message. We're trying to get across to other millionaires and to politicians that, as millionaires, we are very happy to contribute more to society. We want to pay more tax.

A socialist group in Switzerland had organized the Davos protest and invited us along. They were "the 99 percent" and we were "the 1 percent", so to speak, and we had the same message. It was great talking to those people and learning from them.

Did we get any delegates afterwards saying they had seen the light and calling for more tax? No. But we're building the pressure and getting the message across.

I actually started out working in technology in research and development in the U.K., which is not the world's best paid occupation. People go into science and technology because they love it, not to make a bunch of money. I really enjoyed it and then I got to the point where I thought I needed to do something different. I was then headhunted by a consulting firm called PA Consulting Group. Again, the people were great and from a personal point of view, it was more highly remunerated. I worked my way through and became a partner in the firm. I ended up with a significant amount of ownership and I guess the wealth that comes with that.

Millionaire Phil White
Multi-millionaire Phil White (right) protesting at the World Economic Forum in Davos in May 2022. Courtesy of Phil White

Millionaire status is a bit tricky now because a lot of people are millionaires simply by owning a house, but I went significantly above that threshold some years ago. It was while I was still working as a partner, thanks to a bonus structure that rewarded partners for their contribution to the firm. Then we sold the firm to a private equity company and that tripled the value of my assets, made a significant difference to my wealth, and made me a multi-millionaire, with surplus wealth that I won't spend in my lifetime.

I think the idea of wealthy people being taxed more has been developing in my mind over the past few years. When I was a student I was always on the left of the political spectrum and supported progressive causes. I was fairly political, but after I got a job and got busy with life, that sort of faded away. I spent many years working and completed an economics and politics degree. Then, once I stopped working at 66, I got increasingly involved in politics. I read a lot of political and economic theory which then formed an underpinning to a lot of the beliefs I had held through life.

A year or so ago, I saw an interview another member of Patriotic Millionaires had given, and I thought it really was a powerful way of getting the message across, because it really is counter intuitive that rich people would want to pay more tax. I started being much more active with Patriotic Millionaires UK and really fighting for more equality and fairness.

I realized that I have a special "something" that means my voice can be heard in a way that perhaps a lot of people's voices can't. In my case, wealth is a weapon I have at my disposal to get a message out there about wealth, inequality, taxation and fairness.

There are different ways to achieve higher levels of equality and fairness. Providing jobs for everyone is important, but actually there's a lot of in-work poverty out there. Around a third of children in the U.K. live in poverty and the U.K. is in the top 10 largest economies in the world. That's quite hard to reconcile in my mind. Another way out of poverty is to grow our way out and share the proceeds of that growth more fairly, but the growth we have achieved in the U.K. in the past decade or so, particularly with the economy contracting during the pandemic, is not fast enough to make a difference.

That just leaves, to me, the idea of redistribution, which I see as being a primary role of a tax system. I am campaigning for me personally to be taxed more heavily on my wealth and for my wealth to erode over time. I think that would be a great thing. I guess like anyone else, I wouldn't want to see it all disappear tomorrow. But between now and when I die, if I lose a significant percentage of that, it's fine. My son seems pretty cool with that, too.

I have found that, in general, other millionaires and billionaires are very supportive. Surprisingly so. Frankly, I think most millionaires recognize that they have more money than they can do anything with. The option of philanthropy comes in, but amongst people in a similar position to myself, I don't see a lot of people saying that higher tax for wealthy people would be a disaster.

We see inequality in income but also enormous inequality in wealth. We don't have wealth tax in the U.S. and the U.K., although it exists for private individuals in Switzerland. It can be argued against by the rich, but a wealth tax can go a long way. At Patriotic Millionaires UK we have looked at the numbers in the U.K. From a relatively small wealth tax—in low single digit percentages per year—you could raise tens of billions of pounds a year.

I see a wealth tax as being in single digit percentages per year and as something that has to kick in above where the majority of the population sit. I don't think you should put a wealth tax on primary residences, but once you get to income above £4million or £5million (approx $5million to $6.3million), you're into excess wealth. At that point, I think you can start taxing at a standing rate per year.

If that happens, you're looking at losing perhaps 10 percent of your wealth over a decade; that's not the end of the world. In practical terms, it's not a big number, but from a government point of view, if you tax all millionaires you get a significant amount of money to help other people.

I think asking why I haven't given away my wealth already is a fair question. I'm using it as a platform. It is a powerful platform in that sense. At the end of the day, some charities are getting some of my wealth already. But the real power with wealth comes when everybody contributes together. I do give money away, but if I gave millions to a homeless charity it will have a certain effect, maybe for 6 months. The real change happens when everyone gets involved and I think that has to be led by governments.

We all want to see change in our lifetime. I know we're not going to solve all of the world's problems, but I would like to see the issues of inequality, poverty and social justice recognized as things we're going to strive for as a global community. I would like to see that as part of the agenda; that we are going to build a better world; that we're not going to let the rich and powerful continue to dominate in the way that we do at the moment.

Phil White is a member of Patriotic Millionaires UK and The 99% Organisation. He lives in the U.K.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.

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