Vaccines — and Beyond

Beyond the approval and shipment of an anti-Covid vaccine, the news of the week brings glad tidings an big questions.

The good news, of course, is that Google and Facebook now both face massive antitrust action from the U.S. government. And when even the Financial Times says it’s time to break up Big Tech, it’s time. The rationale in the subhead of the FT’s editorial is right on the money: “Allowing new innovative competitors to emerge is critical.” Innovation and competition would be great — all the more so if they emerge well informed by a couple of decades of moving fast and breaking things.

This leads straight to the big question: yes, it’s going to be a bumpy road to the other side of Covid … but what is life on that new shore going to look like? In an important and well-argued column, the FT’s Martin Sandbu writes that (in the UK anyway) “A wealth tax packs a powerful fiscal punch.” That’s well worth reading for the numbers alone: a one-time, not-too-onerous wealth tax (5 percent over five years) on wealthiest 16 percent of citizens would raise as much or more money than noticeable hikes in other taxes that hit less wealthy people (and corporations) much harder.

“[T]he revenue potential,” Sandbu writes, “is too big not to treat a wealth tax as a serious option.”

Indeed. And, although he underplays it, the moral and political implications should be strongly in favor, too. Today’s young people have now been through the worst recession since the Great Depression followed by an even steeper drop due to Covid. People who benefited enormously from the postwar, pre-pandemic economy could withstand a wealth tax — and we’ll likely not get a better opportunity than this spring to enact one.

So, yes: thank goodness for the coming of the vaccine — may its rollout be smoother than we dare to hope. And let’s all hope it ushers in a serious rethink and meaningful reset of our political economy, too.