#rp23 keynote speaker Marlene Engelhorn: On wealth, power and democracy.

27.02.2023 - A millionaire heiress campaigning for fair taxation of wealth and distributive justice.
rp23-Keynote Sprecherin Marlene Engelhorn
Photo Credit
Lorena Sendic Silvera

Marlene Engelhorn (30) is committed to the taxation of the rich and distributive justice - because she inherited a double digit million Euro figure.

She is  co-founder and part of the public relations team at taxmenow - an initiative of wealthy people actively working for tax justice in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. 

In her 2022 book “Geld” (“Money”, no english translation yet) Marlene Engelhorn looks at the redistribution of wealth, land and power and why we need a transparent and democratic discussion on these questions. How much is enough? What is the good life for all? How do we want to share? Who has the right to decide? If we want sustainable answers, we need to define what money actually is on both a personal and societal level. Is it a means of leverage, a safe bank, a desirable goal or the direct path to decadence and corruption?

Marlene demonstrates that a just redistribution of wealth via wealth taxation is of essence for democratic ends.

We look forward to exciting perspectives and discussions around #cash, power and democracy - with Marlene Engelhorn at #rp23.


Let's talk about #CASH. An interview with Marlene Engelhorn.

Does wealth oblige? And if yes, to what?

Wealth obligates us to nothing; this is precisely the problem. Wealth promotes desolidarization effects because people with access to wealth can disregard the fact that wealth comes at an expense to society.  Without society, there is no wealth; without inequity in distribution, there is no wealth that concentrates power and sets the wealthy apart from the general non-rich "masses." Society is everyone's business; taxes must be paid by everyone so that power imbalances due to wealth cannot arise in the first place and rather the interests of all are protected. A society that has to hope that the wealthy will feel obliged submits itself to the benevolence of the wealthy.

#CASH and power - how do you experience this interplay?

We live in a thoroughly financialized world - money can buy/sort out everything if the right amount is available, apart from honest relationships/feelings. When money is distributed unequally, so is power. Those with money can fund political parties, pay for lobbying, influence the economy, and buy newspapers and TV stations. There is something distinctively feudal about this. However, we live in a democracy. The unequal distribution of wealth is not an inevitable state of nature, but the consequence of political decisions. We can also agree on a society in which wealth and power are fairly and democratically distributed.

The issue of wealth tax is close to your heart. However, inheritance is not just about preserving wealth, but also about family legacy. To what extent does your family history also play a role in your commitment to fairer taxation of your inheritance?

Everyone has a family. Why should wealthy families be given preferential tax treatment? This violates the principle of equality and helps promote a moneyed aristocracy - modern feudalism. Moreover, one should look at the family histories of wealth dynasties in terms of the accumulation of wealth. Where does the wealth come from? How did family businesses get through World War II? How are they linked to colonial history, structural racism, and sexism? Which structural/systemic advantages do businesses of a certain size enjoy? Why is a person with family affiliation more likely to take over a business than someone with a different last name? As far as I can tell, people have come to realize that it is simply unfair for wealth, which would not exist without a societal effort and government structures in democracies, to be concentrated in the hands of a few families.

How can a wealth tax contribute to more distributive justice?

Taxing wealth means using a democratic means to address the entire distribution system. Personal income tax could be reduced and wealth could be redistributed so that individuals do not accumulate illegitimate power. Wealth means power. This needs to be discussed. The more clearly we discuss the problem and look at it from all sides, the better we can solve it. But to do that, we need to involve society at large. It is precisely multiperspectivity that will give us the chance to find sustainable solutions to the distribution problem.

The countdown to re:publica 23 is on. Even though many things will still happen until then, is there anything that you already know you will want to discuss with others at #rp23?

I want to talk about money. And about power. Few people understand what it really means to be wealthy - sometimes few people are. I want to give this insight and shed light on my own class privileges.

In the spirit of our CASH motto - what are your current reading/podcast or video recommendations?

The Youtube Channel: Gary's Economics by Gary Stevenson; the book: The Code of Capital by Katharina Pistor; the book: Abundance by Martin Schürz; the book: Wealth Hoarders by Chuck Collins; the book: Access Denied by Francis Seeck; the book: Poverty by Daniela Brodesser; the book: We Heirs by Julia Friedrichs; all films by Julia Friedrichs; the book: We Need to Talk About Money by Otegha Uwagba. And the book: Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici.