capital levy, form of taxation by which the government takes part of the capital of any person or business, as distinguished from a tax on personal or business income. It is usually applied to all capital above a certain minimum and may be set aside for a specific purpose, such as the reduction of the public debt. It was used by several European nations experiencing financial difficulties after World War I, and has been advocated as a measure of social welfare and a deterrent to war profits. Opponents of the capital levy stress its implied penalty on saving. In World War II, Great Britain and the United States resorted to extremely high rates of direct taxation in order to accomplish many of the aims of the capital levy.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.