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向富人征税解决不了贫富差距

Rachel Black 2014年05月15日

经济学家皮凯蒂的新书《21世纪资本论》提议在全球征收财产税,抑制贫富差距。不过,这个措施并不能帮助穷人积累财富。政府要做的是取消加剧贫富差距的政策,代之以能促进新财富生成的体系,帮助广大家庭增加积蓄。

    一部长篇经济学作品能赢得大量关注可不是件常见的事。不过现在,许多人都知道了法国经济学家托马斯•皮凯蒂的著作《21世纪资本论》(Capital in the Twenty-First Century)。这本685页的著作出人意料地成为了畅销书。皮凯蒂在书中分析了几百年来全球的税务记录,最终发现了一个残酷的现实:有钱人的确变得越来越有钱。

    很多人关注收入差距问题,但正如皮凯蒂强调的,就财富而言,贫富鸿沟要宽得多。尽管他拓展了人们对于贫富差距的争论,但书中的讨论往往忽视了一点:我们应该如何解决这个问题?

    至少在美国,人们普遍认为提高收入是出路。各路媒体几乎每天都有报道称,某市长或华盛顿的立法者正在努力提高工人的最低工资。然而,这或许能够让收入差距减小,却无助于帮助美国人积累财富。

    皮凯蒂建议在全球征收财富税,不过向富人征税并不一定能够解决问题。能够帮助普通美国人、尤其是低收入家庭的,是那些能够协助人们增加储蓄从而积累财富的政策。这是近期由我在新美国基金会(New America Foundation)的同事威廉•埃利奥特提出的方法。他在他自己的报告《利用财产打造经济流动系统》中认为,最富有的美国人已经通过他们的储蓄享受了大量政府补贴。根据美国国会预算办公室(Congressional Budget Office)的估计,今年美国1,400亿美元的退休补贴中,有三分之二将由收入最多的那20%的人获得。

    收入较低的美国人则无法得到这种资助。实际上,如果去看看联邦食品和收入援助项目的规定,你就会发现,穷人实际上并不被鼓励存钱。银行存款不到1,000美元的家庭都没有资格参加这种项目。

    结果,收入更高的家庭从长期计划和投资中获得了好处,而低收入家庭这样做则有弊无利。问题的关键在于,钱生钱需要本钱,要如何保证每个人都能有些钱来走上致富之路呢?

    解决方式有许多:俄勒冈州的参议院罗恩•怀登最近表示,支持“立志法案”(ASPIRE Act,The America Saving for Personal Investment, Retirement, and Education Act)中提到的给全体儿童设立储蓄账户的提议。立志法案将为每位在美国出生的儿童提供500美元的储蓄账户,其中的资金可供上大学、买房或退休使用。人们每年可以向其中存入最多2,000美元而不用缴纳税款。低收入家庭也可以按照联邦标准,每年向其中最多存入500美元。纽约州的代表乔•克劳利也支持类似的方式。

    当然,还需要采用一些其他方法来保证这种方式能够获得成功,比如取消资产限制,让低收入家庭将储蓄看作可靠的手段,同时帮助家庭以灵活的储蓄方式建立金融储备,比如新美国基金会推出的金融安全信用制度(Financial Security Credit)。

    It's not often that a lengthy economics book gets very much attention, but by now, many have heard of French economist Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century.The 685-page book has unexpectedly become a bestseller; Piketty analyzes hundreds of years of tax records throughout the world and arrives at a harsh reality: The rich are indeed getting richer.

    A lot of attention has been paid to incomes, but as Piketty highlights, the divide is much wider when it comes to wealth. While he has broadened the debate about inequality, what's often been missing from the discussion is what should we do about it?

    At least in the U.S., the prescriptions have overwhelmingly focused on raising incomes; hardly a day goes by when the media, a city mayor, or Washington lawmakers make the case for raising workers' minimum wage. While that might help equalize incomes, it does nothing to help Americans build wealth.

    Piketty suggests levying a global wealth tax, but taxing the rich isn't necessarily the answer. What could help average Americans, particularly low-income households, are policies that help them build wealth by helping people to save more. This is an approach recently articulated by my New America Foundation colleague, William Elliott. In his report, "Harnessing Assets to Build an Economic Mobility System," he argues that the richest Americans already enjoy extensive government subsidies on their savings. This year, the top 20% of income earners will capture two-thirds of the $140 billion in subsidies for retirement, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.

    Lower-income Americans don't have this type of support. In fact, they're explicitly discouraged from saving more if you look at rules over federal food and income assistance programs that can make families with less than $1,000 in the bank ineligible to participate.

    As a result, higher income families are rewarded for long-term planning and investment and low-income families are penalized for doing so. The point is that it takes money to make money, so how about making sure that everyone starts out with some?

    There are multiple ways: Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has recently voiced his support for a universal savings accounts for children, modeled on the ASPIRE Act. ASPIRE would provide all children born in the U.S. with a $500 savings account that could be put toward the cost of college, buying a home, or retirement. Up to $2,000 could be deposited into the account annually on a tax-free basis, and lower-income families would qualify for a federal match of up to $500 a year. Representative Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) has supported a similar approach.

    There are certainly other measures that need to take place to make sure that an approach like that is successful, such as getting rid of asset limits that cast savings as a liability in the minds of low-income families, as well as helping families build a financial cushion in the form of flexible savings, as the Financial Security Credit would do.

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