This week, as Congressional Democrats attempt to convince Republicans to impose taxes on the very wealthy, Abby talks “tax positivity” with the delightful Austrian activist Marlene Engelhorn. Engelhorn made headlines around the globe when she announced that she wanted the government to take away–through taxes–most of her multi-million dollar inheritance. Marlene, whose ancestors founded giant pharmaceutical and chemical companies, tells Abby about growing up in a family that consistently downplayed their wealth. As a child she thought she lived in a “big house.” Later, she realized it was a huge mansion. “I don’t see why a person like me should have this power.” she tells Abby. You wouldn’t pick someone out of ‘the sperm lottery’ and give them a double-digit multimillion sum and say go play! But that’s what happens when you inherit. And frankly, history has not proven this a good idea.” Marlene says unfair tax laws worldwide are causing inequality to grow and threatening democracy. Whether in the United States, or Austria, she says “Nobody gets asked whether or not they want to pay taxes other than wealthy people.” Abby, who herself has spent years advocating for higher tax rates on fellow plutocrats, points out that she and Marlene are members of a tiny demographic: “people who are questioning their disproportionate wealth and power, and working to end both.”
Marlene’s organization is called taxmenow, and is based in Vienna. Similar groups include the Patriotic Millionaires and Resource Generation in the US, Resource Justice in the UK, and Resource Movement in Canada.
Activist, Co-Founder TaxMeNow
Marlene is a 30 year old long-term student of German literature and language who will always find an excuse to read. Upon receiving a pretzel-like around the corner announcement of a large inheritance, she was forced to put the foot down on principle. So, she started talking to everyone she knew and trusted about everything related to wealth and power. This journey has had her figure out family dynamics, work with the Guerrilla team on radical philanthropy, get in touch with organisations such as Resource Generation and it gave her enough determination to co-found taxmenow, an initiative of wealthy people using their privileged access to mainstream media in order to talk about the democratic necessity of wealth taxation so as not to perpetuate an elitist system of inequality in ownership of land wealth and power. To her, giving back has become redistribution and it simply states the fact that wealth comes from society and it must stay in flux between individuals and communities. She finds not only relief in letting go of excess wealth and power but also sees it to be a democratic duty of those who – for whatever reason – hold excessive access to wealth. She keenly reads constitutions and the universal declaration of human rights to figure out how we can tell a legal story of sharing among equals. Among the stronger voices in her thoughts are Hannah Arendt, Albert Camus, Katharina Pistor, Fran Lebowitz, Ariadne von Schirach and Herta Müller.