A group of ultra-rich Americans wants to pay more in taxes, saying the nation has a "moral, ethical and economic responsibility" to ensure that they do.

In an open letter addressed to the 2020 presidential candidates and published Monday on Medium, the 18 signatories urged political leaders to support a wealth tax on the richest one-tenth of the richest 1 per cent of Americans. "On us," they wrote.

"The next dollar of new tax revenue should come from the most financially fortunate, not from middle-income and lower-income Americans."

Such a tax could "help address the climate crisis, improve the economy, improve health outcomes, fairly create opportunity, and strengthen our democratic freedoms," the letter said. "Instituting a wealth tax is in the interest of our republic."

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Among the billionaires and multimillionaires who signed the letter were Abigail Disney, the independent filmmaker, activist and heir to the Disney entertainment empire; Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes; investor and liberal political donor George Soros; and Regan Pritzker, board chair of the Libra Foundation.

The letter, which emphasised that it was nonpartisan and not to be interpreted as an endorsement of anyone in 2020, noted that several presidential candidates, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Pete Buttigieg and Beto O'Rourke, have already signalled interest in addressing the nation's staggering wealth inequality through taxation.

Abigail Disney was a signatory to the letter calling for a wealth tax. Photo/Getty Images
Abigail Disney was a signatory to the letter calling for a wealth tax. Photo/Getty Images

Warren's proposal, the letter writers said, would implement a tax of 2 cents on the dollar on assets over $50 million and an additional 1 cent tax on every dollar of assets over $1 billion. It would generate nearly $3 trillion in tax revenue over 10 years, they said.

Recent polls show there's a great appetite for increasing taxes on the wealthy. According to a February Politico-Morning Consult poll, 61 per cent of the voters surveyed say they support a wealth tax such as the one backed by the co-signatories, with 20 per cent saying they oppose it and 19 per cent saying they weren't sure. When the results are broken down by political affiliation, 50 per cent of the Republican voters support a wealth tax, compared with nearly three-quarters of Democrats.

During the first year of his administration, President Donald Trump signed a sweeping overhaul of the US tax code. While Republicans cast it as a boon to the middle class, lower- and middle-income taxpayers saw only moderate tax relief while the highest earners received a substantial windfall. According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the tax law will give the richest 1 per cent of Americans - those earning more than $732,800 a year - an average tax break on personal income of about $33,000. Those on the opposite end of the spectrum - those earning less than $25,000 annually - saw an average personal income tax break of $40.

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has been vocal in her support of a wealth tax. Photo/Getty Images.
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has been vocal in her support of a wealth tax. Photo/Getty Images.

The richest 0.1 per cent of Americans now command more wealth than the bottom 80 per cent, according to a recent working paper on wealth inequality by Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley. Nearly 20 per cent of the nation's wealth belongs to the country's richest people.

Among the people who signed the open letter are activists and philanthropists known for their work on social and political issues. Earlier this year, Disney criticized The Walt Disney Co. in a comment in The Washington Post, calling attention to chief executive Bob Iger's compensation last year of $65 million, which amounts to more than 1,400 times the median pay of a Disney worker.

The letter is also signed by Louise Bowditch, Robert Bowditch, Sean Eldridge, Stephen English, Agnes Gund, Catherine Gund, Nick Hanauer, Arnold Hiatt, Molly Munger, Justin Rosenstein, Stephen Silberstein, Ian Simmons, Liesel Pritzker Simmons, Alexander Soros and Anonymous.

- Washington Post