‘Raise my taxes – now!’: the millionaires who want to give it all away

Abigail Disney has parted with $72m – and thinks the rich need to pay far more tax.

stack of the rich's money.
As COVID widens the inequality gap an international league of the super-rich are urging governments to take their money as increased taxes. Getty Images

By Rupert Neate

Abigail Disney has always been very, very rich, or, as she describes it, “too rich”. The money came with her name: she is the granddaughter of Roy Disney who, with his brother Walt, founded the Walt Disney Company in 1923. Disney, 61, refuses to say how much she has, but acknowledges she would have been a billionaire in her own right had she not realised in her 20s that it was her fortune that was making her miserable, and decided to start giving it away.

She has been donating to good causes ever since – $72m (£52m) and counting, mostly to groups helping women in prison, women living with HIV, and victims of domestic violence. But giving it away is no longer enough. She wants the tax collector to take more money, not only from her, but from “all of the absurdly rich people across the world”.

“We’ve long known that the world is hugely unequal,” says Disney. “But now the pandemic has really shown it to all of us, and no one in all conscience can continue to ignore it…”

Abigail Disney is part of a small but growing group among the super-rich, calling for a wealth tax to help fund the recovery from the pandemic. The Patriotic Millionaires movement, of which she is a longstanding member and key spokesperson, started in 2010 with only a handful of signatures on a 163-word open letter, including the musician Moby and Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream co-founder Ben Cohen. It has grown into a global organisation with more than 200 members, including Chuck Collins, heir to the Oscar Mayer hotdog fortune; Morris Pearl, a former managing director at BlackRock; Danish-Iranian billionaire Djaffar Shalchi; and Sir Stephen Tindall, the founder of New Zealand’s largest retailer, the Warehouse Group. They describe themselves as “proud traitors to their class” united in their concern about the “destabilising concentration of wealth and power”.

These members argue that, instead of leaving the super-rich to splash their billions on philanthropic vanity projects such as opera houses and museums, higher taxes should be used to fund public services, welfare and tackle growing inequality. Disney wants taxes on the super-rich to fund universal medical treatment and education in the US and throughout the world. This week, she will help launch the UK and European chapter of Patriotic Millionairespressuring world governments to “raise taxes on people like us. Immediately. Substantially. Permanently”

An annual wealth tax of just 2% on those with more than $50m – as proposed by US senator Elizabeth Warren – would raise more than $4tn, enough money to overhaul the entire US public education system. Warren amended her plan this month to call for a 3% “Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act” targeting people with more than $1bn to help pay for the economic pain the pandemic has caused. “The ultra-rich and powerful have rigged the rules in their favour so much that the top 0.1% pay a lower effective tax rate than the bottom 99%,” Warren said. “And billionaire wealth is 40% higher than before the Covid crisis began…”

The UBS study shows that billionaires (the top 0.000028%) “did extremely well” during the coronavirus pandemic, growing their fortunes to a record high of $10.2tn (£7.8tn), more than three times the annual economic output of the UK. Elon Musk, the maverick co-founder of electric car company Tesla, who was the 35th richest in the world pre-Covid, is now the second-richest person ever to have lived, behind Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Both men have fortunes of more than $180bn each – roughly twice the GDP of Kenya.

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