No one knows exactly how far this nest egg figure goes, mainly because no ‘sun’ rule governs the royal fortune. And few taxes impact that fortune either. Bequests in the UK valued at more than $380,000 are subject to 40% inheritance tax, but Charles will not pay a penny of tax on the royal wealth he inherited. The British crown benefits from an exemption from inheritance tax.
Capital gains tax? The royal family doesn’t legally have to worry about it either. Charles, in fact, has no legal obligation to pay taxes on any of his income, but he pays an annual contribution to the UK tax authorities. How much he pays – and how many expenses he claims against his income – remains privileged private information.
In a sense, Charles, as a creator of wealth, followed in the footsteps of his royal namesakes. In the mid-17th century, roving ambassador to Antigua Dorbrene O’Marde points out, King Charles I opened up trade between Britain and Africa that would lead to the trafficking of human slaves. King Charles II owned the company, O’Marde recently Told Democracy now!“which has moved more Africans off the continent to the Americas than any other company in history.”
O’Marde chairs the Antigua and Barbuda Reparations Commission, one of many efforts currently underway in Britain’s former colonies to get Britain, as O’Marde puts it, “to reassess its role in the genocide, in the looting, in the violence that he exerted on the African peoples. Leading these efforts: a commission created by Caribbean Heads of State to advocate for justice for “victims of crimes against humanity” ranging from genocide to racial apartheid.
This Caricom Reparations Commission has developed an action plan that details proposals to redress a wide range of wrongs inflicted over 400 years of British and European empire building. One such proposal would address hypertension and type 2 diabetes in today’s African Caribbean population. No group globally has a higher incidence of these chronic conditions.
Another part of the plan aims to repair the lasting economic damage caused by Britain’s imperial slogan that “not a nail shall be made in the colonies”. This approach denied the Caribbean “participation in the industrialization process of Europe” and limited the region to the production and export of raw materials under a system “designed to extract maximum value from the region and allow maximum accumulation of wealth in Europe”.
Last June, Charles acknowledged this history and reinforced his image as someone who cares deeply about issues that go beyond the traditional ceremonial obligations of British monarchs. He Told British Commonwealth leaders meeting in Rwanda that it “cannot describe the depth of my personal grief at the suffering of so many people as I continue to deepen my own understanding of the lasting impact of slavery”.
Charles has also been vocal – for decades – on the environmental disasters that threaten humanity so much. Now, as king, he has the opportunity to help deepen global understanding of the threats and injustices facing humanity. But following this path would require an intensity of soul-searching from Charles that no British royal has yet attempted.
The British Empire, Institute for Policy Studies analyst Basav Sen points out, “literally” ushered in “the industrial revolution fueled by fossil fuels, the engine of climate change.” And this leadership role rests on the “looting of other parts of the world”, the colonial centuries which “provided much of the capital investment for the large-scale construction of manufacturing facilities and machinery”.
This plunder has left the empire’s colonized societies deeply in debt and starkly vulnerable to the horrors of climate change they did not cause, such as the current tragedy in Pakistan – where floodwaters have overwhelmed a third of the nation – vividly attests to this today.
Pakistan, Remarks Environmental journalist Emily Atkin has so far “racked up $30 billion in damage from this year’s floods”. The UK has so far offered $1.7 million in help.
British colonialism, adds Atkins, left countries like Pakistan “a legacy of massive climate vulnerability”. For the UK – and Charles – that era left “a legacy of massive wealth”.
Charles could lead the way in addressing these two legacies. To start, said Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, president of the Environmental Grantmakers Association, could call for debt cancellation. And Charles could dramatically signal the importance of that call by taking one simple step. He could commit a significant portion of his huge personal fortune to the Pakistani relief effort.
Monte, Charles. Share the wealth.
Sam Pizzigati co-edits Inequality.org. His latest books include The case of a maximum wage and The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph Over Plutocracy That Created America’s Middle Class, 1900-1970. Twitter: @Too_Much_Online.