Protection of private property is one of the main roles of most governments, but the job is inherently regressive since the wealthy have so much more property to protect. Police tend to be more concerned with the theft of a car than of a backpack, even though the backpack might mean more to the person that lost it.

Progressive taxation on income is common, but it may not solve the problem because wealth varies way more than income. For example, someone earning three times as much income as their neighbor could easily have a hundred times the wealth. Of course, wealth distribution is not bimodal but may follow a power law.

Wealth taxes have been discussed, but I'm not aware of anywhere they exist, other than the specific case of a property tax.

Has any country or region had a policy which relieves the poor from paying to protect the property of the wealthy?

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    Many, if not most, tax systems tend to tax the wealthy more than the poor (in absolute terms, if not also as a percentage of income or assets). Can you clarify how what you're asking for is different from this? Mar 27, 2018 at 8:42
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    'but the job is inherently regressive since the wealthy have more property to protect.' Do you have a definition of 'regressive' other than 'things I don't like'?
    – user19831
    Mar 27, 2018 at 11:29
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    I disagree with the premise of your question. This is not a valid reason to close. It's not off topic. It's not overly broad. It's not unclear. It's not a duplicate. It's not opinion based because it is asking for facts. But its premise is wrong. It doesn't deserve an answer because from wrong premises anything can follow. But it does deserve a downvote.
    – grovkin
    Apr 2, 2018 at 5:59
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    @Orangesandlemons It's the definition of "regressive" from tax policy: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regressive_tax Sep 27, 2018 at 21:24
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    The opposite of "property protection" is open theft. So the question is essentially asking if any country has discussed stealing. I adding the tag "crime". Also since the question does not seem to be primarily about taxes (and only uses taxes as 1 example) I don't think it needs a "taxes" tag.
    – grovkin
    Jan 24, 2019 at 21:58

4 Answers 4


Progressive taxation in general is a staple of almost every modern democracy.

The way it works is two tiered.

First, you pay a percentage of your income as income taxes. That means people who accumulate more wealth (= have more income) pay more in absolute terms.

Second, that percentage usually increases the more you earn, so you pay proportionally more the more wealthy you get as well.

These taxes fund property protection, so say the person with the 100$ backpack that represents 10% of his monthly income has paid less in both percentage and actuality then the person with the 10.000$ car that got stolen.

Additionally, taxes like the inheritance tax (taxing money you pass to your descendants) and property taxes (directly taxing your held property yearly) operate on a similar formula, meaning that the more wealthy people pay more both as a matter of percentage and absolute value.

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    The thrust of the answer is correct but it would benefit from actual figures (x% of top earners pay y% of all taxes). I think there was an answer here or on Skeptics listing actual statistics, in the last couple of weeks, that can be cribbed from.
    – user4012
    Mar 27, 2018 at 12:35
  • While wealth and income are correlated, it is not true that they are equivalent. Someone can have a high income but spend all of it immediately. It's more difficult for someone with high wealth to have a low income but not impossible.
    – Brythan
    Mar 27, 2018 at 15:41
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    @Brythan it occured here as real estate prices skyrocketed - people with low incomes were suddenly owning millions in property. The wealth tax hit them so hard our Govt had to pass a law to limit its amount relative to revenue.
    – bobflux
    Mar 27, 2018 at 16:19
  • The loose relationship between income and wealth is why I don't think progressive income taxation does the trick. I edited question accordingly; sorry it wasn't clear at first. Mar 27, 2018 at 16:51
  • @AaronBrick my last paragraph addresses progressive property taxation. The inheritance / estate tax and yearly property taxes are big examples of this.
    – Magisch
    Mar 27, 2018 at 16:54

Wealth taxes have been discussed, but I'm not aware of anywhere they exist, other than the specific case of a property tax.

Many European countries and most Western and Northern European countries (as well as Argentina) have wealth taxes. Many more countries globally have taxes on inheritances or estates which mutes the effect of inherited wealth on wealth inequality.

Also, many countries have social insurance taxes, typically impose on the basis in employment income, that fund universal pensions, health care and other social services, in which the distributions of benefits may be more equitable that the taxes that pay for them.

Has any country or region had a policy which relieves the poor from paying to protect the property of the wealthy?

Obviously, an answer like this cannot be a comprehensive list all of redistributive policies ever adopted anyway, but it does identify a few of the more notable examples to give you a favor of what they look like in some places.

Nationalized Industries

Many countries have at one time or another nationalized entire industries that were previously owned by wealthy elites, or to pre-empt wealthy elites from doing so in the first place.

For example, many countries have nationalized oil, gas and mineral resources of the country, and exploit those resources with a state owned company.

In the United States, Alaska taxes oil and gas production, puts that money into a government fund, and then distributes profits from that fund to every Alaskan resident annually on a per capita basis, in one of the most extreme socialist redistribution schemes in the United States.

Policy wonks from a variety of political backgrounds have sought to generalize this concept to establish a "universal basic income" that everyone gets simply for being alive paid for with tax funds.

Many oil or mineral rich monarchies or authoritarian regimes use nationalized/royalty owned oil and/or mineral wealth to dramatically limit domestic taxation and to fund a welfare state for average citizens, sometimes with straight cash dispersals, sometimes with heavily subsidized prices for certain essentials of life, and sometimes by heavily subsidizing services like health care and education.

Airlines, merchant shipping, banking, and defense contracting are other commonly nationalized industries.

Inequality Reduction Through Real Estate Market Interventions

Until quite recently, the lion's share all of the residential real estate in Singapore was government owned and rented to families rather than owned, and strong vestiges of that system still remain. As a result, the economic value of appreciation in the nation's residential real estate is nationalized. So, fortunes like those of Republican President Donald Trump, and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, both of which involved substantial wealth accumulation from real property appreciation, probably wouldn't have happened in Singapore.

New York City has a rental control system designed to prevent the wealthy from exploiting the poor (with mixed results) and many other places in the U.S. have affordable housing system that creates some stock of affordable priced, price controlled housing at the expense of developer who want to sell market priced housing.

In communists regimes, and other regimes with strong communist leanings that call themselves socialist, land reform is another common redistribution tool. For example, Zimababwe expropriated land from white landowners who acquired that land in the colonial era and prior to reform owned most of the productive land in the country. This absolute redistributed wealth, but it also had catastrophic effects on agricultural productivity because the new land owners installed by the effort often lacked the skill set and resources to exploit the land effectively.

Similar land reforms took place in many other places, including in early days of the Soviet Union and after the Communist Revolution in China, in both cases resulting in mass famines and tens of millions of deaths, until reforms stabilized those respective agricultural sectors.

Inequality Reduction In The Criminal Justice System

An example that is particularly relevant since the question alludes to the use of the criminal justice system to enforce property rights is that in Germany and some Nordic countries, they punish many less serious criminal offenses with "day-fines" rather than incarceration. The fines are codified for particular offenses and imposed based upon a number of days of the offender's income, which is then determined administratively. So, for example, the day fine for drunk driving might be 5 days of income. But, for a poor man, that fine might work out to be $400, while for a rich man, that might work out to be $5,000. Countries with day fines are notorious for having the most expensive speeding tickets in the world in cases where a day fine is imposed on someone with an extremely high income like a CEO of a major company.

Policies Reducing Inequality In The Private Sector

Some countries have policies that promote reductions in income inequality within the private sector, rather than through direct government redistribution.

For example, Germany provides strong rights for unions in medium and large sized businesses including a right for unions to have seats on the board of directors in a practice called co-determination.

The town of Mondragon in Basque, Spain has organized much of its economy on a worker owned cooperative basis. Many plywood factories in Oregon, and many parts of the agricultural industry in the United States above the individual farm level, are similarly organized on a cooperative basis.

In Japan, a system of lifetime employment in many big businesses, a tradition of employer provided benefits such as housing in many cases, and a wage system in those kinds of businesses where workers receive a substantial share of their annual income in the form of an annual bonus whose size can be used to buffer good and bad years for a company sharing risks and rewards with workers instead of limiting the risks and rewards to an investor class, have contributed to low levels of income inequality in the Japanese economy relative to comparably developed countries with comparable levels of government spending on welfare state type programs in other countries. Effectively, modern Japan (in the tradition of late 19th century Prussia) internalized much of its welfare state into big businesses, rather than implementing it at the government level.

  • One minor nitpick with an otherwise excellent answer: rent control is AFAIK acknowledged by the economically literate on both sides of the political spectrum to be objectively awful. Jan 25, 2019 at 23:31
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    @JaredSmith Rent control is still used on a regular basis, and one legitimate way to think about it is as a hybrid of a lease and a fixed rate mortgage. In economics, little is objectively true.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 26, 2019 at 0:34
  • Milton Friedman and Paul Krugman don't agree on much, but they do agree on rent control being bad. In fact, a quick google search shows that "a poll of the American Economic Association found 93 percent of its members agreeing that ''a ceiling on rents reduces the quality and quantity of housing." That sounds about as close to "objectively true" as you're going to get in social science. Jan 26, 2019 at 2:26

I would like to challenge a premise of your question: namely that protecting private property is inherently regressive.

Consider the following scenario:

You're poor and I'm rich. I decide that I want your land because that's where I know the railroad is going to go/I learn that it has oil deposits/It's adjacent to my summer cabin. Except that you have no interest in selling.

So I hire goons to beat you up, set brush fires, vandalize your home. I reach out through my rich guy network to get you fired from your job. Your wife has been working as a maid... to someone in my rich-guy network. Bam.

Oh, and the fair value that your land would otherwise have? I ain't paying it.

My understanding from popular culture is that such things did in fact happen during the settling of the American West.

From one viewpoint, enforcement of property rights is more beneficial to the wealthy: they have more property, the get more of a response from law enforcement, etc.

But from another viewpoint it is of more benefit to the poor, because they unlike the rich have no recourse except the rule of law. And since taxes are primary payed (in absolute terms) by the wealthy it's actually progressive: rich people are paying for something that helps them a little but the poor quite a bit. Now certainly, if you take any given instances like the car and the backpack in your question then it looks better for the rich guy, but in aggregate the poor and middle classes are helped more because they don't have the resources to protect their property themselves.


Has any country or region had a policy which relieves the poor from paying to protect the property of the wealthy?

Sort of. In the case of most western countries, all people who you would call 'poor' are net beneficiaries of the state once you take everything into account. As such to claim they are paying to protect the property of the wealthy would be due to ignoring all context.

  • Is there evidence supporting this claim? Jan 25, 2019 at 18:36
  • @Aaron Brick yep. For instance, in the UK you have free NHS and schooling which already is going to cover a lot of tax all by themselves. Of course these are not income dependent, but for lower income families that's going to make them net beneficiaries even before you take into account things like working tax credit, child tax credit, housing benefit etc.
    – user19831
    Jan 26, 2019 at 20:12
  • This model divides society into givers and takers based on their fiscal balances without reflecting labor conditions or social mobility. You claim that progressive social spending cancels out regressive spending elsewhere, but I don't think the working poor feel well-served by the totality of government policy. If being a "net beneficiary of the state" were actually satisfying, wealthier people would be quitting their jobs to try it. Jan 29, 2019 at 18:21
  • @Aaron Brick that's a red herring; if your question is 'is policing a redistributive policy' then you may have a point.
    – user19831
    Jan 29, 2019 at 19:16

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