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America: Love it or (if you're rich enough) leave it?

September 19, 2010 | 11:34 am

Glen Esnard, a Newport Beach executive for real estate services firm Grubb & Ellis, went to bat in the Wall Street Journal last week for high-income-earners who believe it’s unfair that their tax rates should rise on Jan. 1, as President Obama proposes.

Esnard also suggested that the answer might be for the better-heeled to find a new country.

In a letter to the newspaper, Esnard wrote that although he includes himself in the population earning more than $250,000 a year:

My family isn't wealthy. I have no funded retirement plan save Social Security, if it is there when I need it. I have no guarantee of permanent health care. I am paying off school loans for our three children. A meaningful number of my friends have lost their jobs, and all who are still employed, including my family, have taken significant pay reductions. . . . This is a classless recession, at least in my experience. It is hitting everyone.

Yet those of us who make $250,000 or more are vilified and held accountable for solving our government's penchant for spending more than it takes in so that politicians can buy votes. We already pay more in taxes than 98% of the population, particularly the nearly 50% of eligible voters who pay no federal income tax. The president wants us to pay more, and he frames it in a way that casts us as not yet carrying our fair share of the burden.

He then goes on to say that the $250K+ class might just vote with their feet:

Apparently our president thinks that living in America is so wonderful that we will never leave, despite being directly attacked and held responsible for the political class's inability to constrain its desire to buy votes with our money. He should think again.

Esnard's letter caught the eye of Reuters blogger Felix Salmon, who wasn’t exactly sympathetic

I emailed Esnard to ask if he seriously expected high-income-earners to think of leaving the country because their tax rate would rise to 39.6% from 35% (their dividend and capital gains tax rates also would jump), and/or because of Obama's "vilification" campaign, as Esnard put it.

He responded: "Although I am not an expert, I think it is a real issue. No different than people leaving states for more hospitable locations." He also said he has received a "surprising number of resonant e-mails and voicemails."

Where could an American tax refugee go? As a starting point, check out the World Bank's handy list of the top marginal  tax rates in more than 100 countries. For details on individual countries, taxrates.cc has a very comprehensive listing.

FYI, Russia wants just 13% of your income if you become a resident. Bulgaria will take a mere 10%. Canada's highest federal tax rate is 29%, but provincial taxes can push the top marginal rate to 48.25%.

Residents of Bermuda have to contend with the occasional hurricane, but the islanders pay no national income tax. Too good to be true? Read the fine print at bermuda-online.

-- Tom Petruno

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