Commentary greens and wealth tax: out of the unrecognizable

The Greens are entering the Bundestag election campaign with a yes to the wealth tax. That’s brave – but the tax probably wouldn’t do much good.

Who likes to run into a concrete wall a second time? The Greens certainly don’t. Photo: dpa

In English, there’s the laid-back saying, "Pick your battles." Focus on the battles you can win. The Greens are now making this clever phrase their own. In the federal election campaign, they will campaign for a wealth tax that burdens very rich people – that is, multiple millionaires and billionaires. At the same time, however, and this is crucial, they are making peace with the high earners of the upper middle class.

In short, a lawyer who earns 150,000 euros a year, likes to shop at the organic market and loves the good life no longer needs to be afraid of the Greens. Anyone who claims after the party conference in Munster that the eco party is scaring away the middle classes with left-wing utopias has not understood the resolutions. On the contrary, the Greens are seeking reconciliation with their academically educated, well-off clientele.

To be sure, they still advocate abolishing the antiquated marital splitting system. But those who are already married will continue to receive the subsidy. The Greens are also no longer touching income tax; even top earners need not fear an increase. This is the party’s reaction to the 2013 election disaster, in which the number-heavy tax concept also played a role. Back then, wealthy, eco-savvy middle-classes had to fear losses in their wallets; today, they are being gently embraced.

Sure, one can find that sociopolitically wrong. True redistribution of wealth does not take place when the wealthy like the lawyer are left out. The Greens are lying to themselves here. And yes, they would actually have to write off many of their expensive wishes now, because they cannot be financed with the tax policy cuddle course. But tactically, the Greens are doing the right thing. Who likes to run into a concrete wall a second time?

Shirking out of fear of conflict – not an option

It is also true that it takes courage to fight for a wealth tax in Germany. The Greens have recently bent themselves beyond recognition, for example on refugee policy. But by saying yes to the tax, they are taking a risk. Powerful business associations like the DIHK hate it, and the CDU/CSU and FDP will do everything they can to defame the tax as a dangerous tool of the alleged left-wing front.

In the process, it is mystified by both sides, by its opponents and fans alike. Neither would such a tax destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs, as conservatives claim, nor would it close the gap between rich and poor, as some on the left believe.

Such a tax would give indebted states and municipalities a little more breathing room for urgently needed investments, no more and no less. And it would be a symbol to the public that the state is asking very rich people to make a greater contribution to the community.

That signal alone would be valuable. Those who lament the rise of right-wing populists in Europe or Trump’s victory can no longer remain silent about wealth inequality. Shirking tough conflicts out of fear of the power of the financial elites is no longer an option. It would be cowardly, naive and, in the meantime, dangerous for democracy.

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