Daniel J. Mitchell

Some of the world’s most disgusting and evil regimes restricted the right to emigrate, including the imposition of exit taxes designed to fleece those who did want to escape.

Given the evils of communism, you won’t be surprised to learn that the Soviet Union had such a policy. Here’s an excerpt from a 1972 story in the Palm Beach Post.

…citizens have been refused permission to leave the Soviet Union unless they pay a new tax… Nearly 500 Jews signed a letter to U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim calling the tax an illegal “ransom” and an extreme injustice. Jews trying to emigrate to Israel have been the main victims of the new tax imposed by a decree… However, the tax is applied to anyone trying to emigrate from the Soviet Union.

Not surprisingly, the Nazis also used the same approach. Here are the relevant passages from a report by the World Jewish Congress.

… nearly a third of the German war effort was paid for with money stolen from Jews according a new study about the role of the German Finance Ministry during the ‘Third Reich’. …Ministry officials robbed an estimated 120 billion reichsmarks [the equivalent of nearly US$ 20 billion today] by looting and through stringent confiscation laws. …Tax laws discriminated against Jews from 1934, while some who managed to leave Germany before the Holocaust had much of their wealth seized through an ‘exit tax’.

Unfortunately, exit taxes still exist, and I’m embarrassed to say that the United States is one of the few countries to impose such a levy.

There’s no anti-Semitic motive for the tax. Instead, politicians have imposed exit taxes because some Americans decided to emigrate to jurisdictions with better tax law.  And rather than interpret this as a sign that the tax code was too onerous and should be replaced with something like a flat tax, they decided to enact a law to ransack people as they crossed the border.


Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a top expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy at the Cato Institute.