This chapter introduces the central questions of the book. In the age of globalization, what is the connection between the rich and the places where they live? Is place a temporary convenience for the rich and powerful—readily switched out when the tides change? Or is place a deep foundation for their success? Are top income earners mobile millionaires searching for low-tax places to live, or are they embedded elites reluctant to move away from the places where they have become highly successful? This chapter also introduces the main empirical data for the book—big administrative data from the tax returns of U.S. millionaire income earners over more than a decade. Finally, the structure and organization of the book is summarized.
This chapter explores the empirical evidence for the mobile millionaires versus embedded elites debate. Drawing on the tax returns of U.S. millionaires, this chapter focuses on these questions: To what extent do top income earners migrate away from places with high income taxes? Are millionaires especially concentrated in low-tax states? Do they tend to move from high-tax to low-tax states? What about along the narrow geographic borders of states? In border county regions, do the rich tend to cluster on the low-tax side of the border? This chapter also moves higher up the food chain to look at the location and migration of the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans. Finally, the chapter examines the social demography of the rich: considering how their family and business responsibilities, as well as their age and education levels, can help explain their overall migration patterns.
This chapter looks at the global migration of the world's elites, as well as the use of tax havens that allow the rich to move their money abroad. First, the world's billionaires offer an international look at the mobile millionaire thesis. How often do billionaires move to low-tax countries? Are billionaires a transnational capitalist class? Or do they just live in the country where they were born? The analyses here give a clear view into the geographic mobility of the richest people in the world. The second half of the chapter continues the global focus by examining international tax havens. Rather than moving themselves, can the rich achieve tax savings by moving their money into offshore shell companies? The chapter examines how the offshore economy works and what shell companies and tax havens can and cannot do. It also explores which countries are more likely to use offshore accounts.
This chapter explores why place is still important for the rich. The income of the rich depends in part on where they live. Peak performance does not necessarily travel with the individual when the person moves away. Top incomes are sustained not simply through individual brilliance and hard work, but also through collaborative relationships and social networks that depend on being in a shared place. People at the top are deeply embedded insiders who earn economic rewards because their social networks place them close to the action. Top income earners have accumulated much home-field advantage that would be diluted by moving away. It is important to disentangle the idea of travel, which often signifies wealth and status, from the idea of migration, which is often less glamorous—reflecting hardship or entry-level status. The chapter concludes with case studies of open borders in Europe and the United States.
This chapter revisits the central findings of the book and develops the conceptual and policy implications. How should states set their tax policies? What are the benefits and costs for states that have high income taxes on the rich? The chapter emphasizes that states have little ability to attract the highest income earners, but they can attract a pipeline of future high income earners. These are young professionals—those not yet established in their careers; they are the most mobile individuals, they still have relatively low incomes, and they will not be paying top-bracket tax rates for many years. Progressive taxes are paid by people with late-career success. The revenues pay for education, infrastructure, and services that are most attractive to young, early-career individuals. In this sense, millionaire taxes are an intergenerational transfer.