Will taxing the rich more really help the poor?

Will taxing the rich more really help the poor?

This year's Budget announced an intention to spend more on the poor - but also to collect more from the rich.

In raising "wealth" taxes on those buying investment properties and conspicuous consumption items such as luxury cars, while in turn promising more social spending, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam seemed to some to be playing Robin Hood - which has drawn a polarised reaction.

While some hailed it as fair redistribution, others worried that it marked the start of a chipping away of Singapore's capitalistic, competitive environment.

In any case, the latest "wealth tax" hikes are more symbolic than revenue-generating, because they bring in measly amounts compared to the broad-based taxes like the Goods and Services Tax (GST) or income tax, say experts and observers.

The tax hike for investment properties will bring in $72 million more a year, while that for luxury cars is about $150 million.

 This is a fraction of the $6.9 billion collected in income tax last year, says Ms Jill Lim, tax partner at Deloitte Singapore.

Ernst & Young transaction tax partner Russell Aubrey notes: "It's really more of a social measure about equality than a revenue measure."

But to further tax the rich to fund social spending in the years to come might be a political and economic battle that the Government may not have the stomach for.

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