The Oracle Speaketh


In yesterday's New York Times, Warren Buffett, the billionaire chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway made a simple pitch: tax me, and my stupendously rich friends, more. Lots more.

This should not have caught many people off guard.  Buffett has said publicly in the past that they supports increased taxes for the super-rich, because he feels they are not bearing the burden of government as much as those much further down the food chain.

But for whatever reason, it seems everyone was listening to the Oracle from Omaha yesterday. I personally received over a dozen links to the article from various people, and probably twice that many links to it on Facebook.

It isn't surprising that many rich folks defend the status-quo, pointing out holes in Buffett's logic or math.  The arguments usually follow the same basic theory of trickle-down economic benefit, or argue that corporations are "double-taxed", and since rich people own corporations, they are actually paying twice.

They all, of course, are missing the bigger point.

Buffett is not merely endorsing the idea that the rich should pay a higher percentage of their income in tax.  Certinaly, while he does makes a detailed economic argument, and rather artfully at that, what he is really doing is making a moral argument.  He is advocating for returning to a more fundamentally just method of taxation.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

This is all pretty amazing. We are living at a time in this county when many people, rich and poor alike, are acutely aware of fiscal and tax policy for the first time in more than a generation. Deficits and debts, both public and private, have suddenly become both very real and very important. And now, one of the world's richest people is asking his fellow billionaires to kick in a few extra buck to help the rest of us out.

Friends in high places, indeed.