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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There is now legislative language behind the push to tax American billionaires on unrealized capital gains, as Sen. Ron Wyden last night released his 107-page plan.

Why it matters: This would be a sea change in U.S. tax policy, which has only applied to realized gains (otherwise known as income).

  • Wyden's proposal would apply to those with more than $1 billion in assets or more than $100 million in adjusted gross income over three consecutive years.
  • The biggest tax bills would come up front, charging a long-term cap gains rates on all unrealized monies for tradeable investments. Payments could be spread out over five years.
  • Then, going forward, payers would be on the hook for annual capital gains taxes on new unrealized income — although unrealized losses could be carried forward as offsets.
  • Pay special attention to the term "tradeable." Not only because it likely applies to crypto, but because it wouldn't apply to illiquid securities or real estate. Yes, there are deferred interest charges included for certain non-tradeable assets — to be paid upon sale or transfer — but, in general, Wyden is an indirect supporter of "stay private longer."

Be smart: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Sunday pushed back against defining this as a wealth tax, likely for constitutional reasons (and because it's different from Sen. Elizabeth Warren's European-style net worth tax). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also on Sunday, did call it a wealth tax. Pelosi is right.

Be smarter: There are very good philosophical and practical arguments against taxing unrealized gains, but the hand-wringing from some about how this will kill capitalism is just laughable.

  • People will still strive to become insanely wealthy because ... well, because they'll be insanely wealthy. And most of them can either sell some stock or take out loans to cover these tax bills (just like they currently take out loans against unrealized earnings).

Be smartest: Democrats haven't yet demonstrated an ability to get any of their major economic plans passed, beyond a COVID relief bill earlier this year. In other words, there's little imperative for celebration or consternation.

The bottom line: The definition of income could be changing, at least for the wealthiest of the wealthy.

Go deeper

Nov 10, 2021 - Economy & Business

Big business sharpens attack on Build Back Better

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Business groups are sharpening their attacks on President Biden's Build Back Better package, warning congressional Democrats about its overall costs, potential effects on inflation and $800 billion in corporate tax increases.

Why it matters: The White House relied on some of these same groups — like the Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable — to pass the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Jack Dorsey stepping down as Twitter CEO

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Jack Dorsey is stepping down as CEO of Twitter, the company announced Monday. He will be succeeded by CTO Parag Agrawal, effective immediately.

The big picture: Dorsey is also the CEO of financial payments company Square, which he co-founded in 2009, and has become a crypto evangelist in recent years.

Tracking the pandemic's unequal impact

Expand chart
Data: Morning Consult/Axios; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

The pandemic was bound to hit the most economically vulnerable among us the hardest. New polling data from Morning Consult, out this morning, shows the degree to which those difficulties were more concentrated among people of color.

Catch up quick: The Morning Consult/Axios Inequality Index has tracked the economic experience of adults in three wage groups since May 2020. We began publishing the findings in May of this year, and six months in, we’re slicing the data a little differently — and looking at inequality between ethnicities.