Billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Richard Branson said Thursday that taxing the rich "makes sense," arguing the extremely affluent have a responsibility to tackle some of the biggest problems in the world, including wealth disparities.
"People like myself are incredibly fortunate," the Virgin Group founder told CNBC's Morgan Brennan in an interview. "I suspect there should be higher taxes for the wealthy around the world and I don't think they would object to that."
Branson — with a net worth of $4.1 billion, according to Forbes — is part of the growing circle of elite business leaders questioning wealth disparity in the world. He said that governments need to get taxes from "somewhere" while helping the middle class and poor.
During the Milken Institute Summit in Abu Dhabi earlier this week, Branson expressed similar views. "We have to try and do everything we can to lift the vast majority of people up, when for the last few years the vast majority have not seen their living standards improve," he told an audience on Tuesday evening.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are pushing the wealthy to pay their "fair share of taxes." Warren — who on Saturday formally launched her 2020 Democratic run for president — is proposing an additional 2 percent tax every year on households with assets over $50 million and 3 percent on households with assets over $1 billion. Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman firebrand, wants a 70 percent marginal tax rate on income above $10 million.
Among the wealthy business leaders who agree with Branson is Bill Gates — known for starting Microsoft and giving billions of dollars away to charity. In an interview this week with The Verge, Gates said he supports "more progressive" taxes on the rich, but proposals targeting high income brackets, like a plan from Ocasio-Cortez, are too narrow. It appears Gates is more closely aligned to Warren's proposal.
Debate around taxing the rich has the GOP, and the wealthy themselves, jittery. Former Rep. Jeb Hensarling — a Republican who represented Texas from 2003 until the new Congress was seated this year — said on CNBC Tuesday, "I am fearful of it because in America we do not traditionally vilify success. We celebrate success." Hensarling's sentiments were also voiced last month among the gathering of global titans at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.