Who pays the government's bills? You do

A one-off tax on your wealth could be closer than you think now that the IMF has planted the idea in the government's head.

"Let us never forget this fundamental truth there is no such thing as public money; there is only taxpayers' money." So said Margaret Thatcher back in 1983. The point she was making at the time was that if the government wants or needs more money it has only one place to go for it. "It is no good thinking someone else will pay that someone else is you."*

Move forward 30 years and an awful lot of someone elses all of us at Moneyweek very much included are beginning to get very nervous indeed.

We've told you over and over again that we expect a good part of the fiscal end game to involve the confiscation of your wealth. It will be done slowly and sneakily (keeping interest rates below inflation, putting levies on your energy bills to cover green subsidies etc) most of the time. But that won't be the end of it.

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There may be capital controls. There will be new taxes of one kind or another on those perceived to be wealthy (sharp rises in NI for higher rate taxpayers and a mansion tax perhaps).There will be cuts to the tax benefits of pensions (the slashing of the 25% you can take in a lump sum on retirement being the obvious next step). There may be changes to the Isa regime (note the floating of the idea of a £100,000 cap on savings).

And we have also wondered in the past if there is likely to be a one-off levy on pension and Isa assets or even just wealth in general at some point.What could be easier in the minds of authorities than to shave a few percent of everyone's wealth in the name of patriotism?It turns out that, if you consider the IMF to be an authority, the answer is nothing.

October's Fiscal Monitornotes that "persistently high debt ratios in advanced economies... cast clouds on the global fiscal landscape", that dealing with this must remain "top of the policy agenda", but that "the scope to raise more revenue is limited in many advanced economies... where tax ratios are already high."

The paper then talks about various ways of dealing with the problem before noting that "taxes on wealth... offer significant revenue potential", and mentioning the possibility of a "one-off capital levy".In the euro area, according to the IMF, you can reduce debt levels to where they were in 2007 with a one-off levy on all households with "positive net wealth".

So, now you know. The IMF isn't (I don't think) actually recommending this (yet). But the idea is certainly out there. And assuming you have positive net wealth that should give you something pretty nasty to worry about.

* Thanks to Andrew Hamilton for reminding me of this quote.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.