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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Warren Buffett Is Wrong on Taxes

Wall Street Journal op-ed, Warren Buffett Is Wrong On Taxes, by Stephen Moore:

The Oracle of Omaha is at it again. On July 7, Warren Buffett told Bloomberg: "I think the rich have a responsibility to pay higher tax rates." Then he groused that his wealthy friends are "paying lower tax rates than the people who are serving us the food." Mr. Buffett has been voicing this complaint for years, once observing that his personal tax rate of 17.7% is lower than that of his receptionist (30%).

During Monday night's national address, President Obama recited the Buffet line that millionaires and billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. Democrats in Congress routinely cite Mr. Buffett's tax confessions as irrefutable evidence that tax rates on the very rich are too low and the system is unfair. And the system would be unfair, if Mr. Buffett's tax facts were the whole truth. But they aren't. ...

Mr. Buffett owns about one-quarter of his investment company Berkshire Hathaway, and his shares are worth about $38 billion. This wealth is mostly stored in what are technically called "unrealized capital gains." Eventually when those gains are converted into income, he will pay a capital gains tax. ...

Warren Buffett is wrong on taxes. The tax system is already far too reliant on the wealthy to pay the government's bills. Taxes on millionaires and billionaires are already near a record high in terms of the share of all income taxes paid. And the effective tax rate on this group is much higher, not lower, than any other income category. The best way to balance the budget is for the economy to produce a lot more American success stories like Warren Buffett.

Future of Capitalism, Buffett and Taxes, by Ira Stoll:

Mr. Moore doesn't mention anywhere in the piece that Mr. Buffett has pledged a huge portion of that $38 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. When you donate appreciated stock to a charity, you avoid the capital gains tax. I believe one can also avoid the capital gains tax at death under the estate tax by getting a step-up in basis, but then your estate (in essence, your heirs) has to pay the estate tax. In other words, Mr. Buffett may well manage not to pay a capital gains tax on that "income." This point doesn't necessarily undermine Mr. Moore's argument that Mr. Buffett has a higher tax rate than his secretary. ... What it does tend to undermine is Mr. Buffett's argument that he should pay more taxes. If he wanted to, he could. But he has chosen to organize his affairs so as to minimize his taxes, figuring that he (and Bill and Melinda Gates) are better at allocating capital than the politicians in Washington are.

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Comments

"Taxes on millionaires and billionaires are already near a record high in terms of the share of all income taxes paid." Why? Because the share of national income claimed by millionaires and billionaires are near or at or past a record high. Measured against income (and not taxable income reduced by exclusions and deductions), the wealthy do pay at lower rates. People living on salaries are taxed on all but a small portion of their economic income. People living on trust fund payouts are taxed on a fraction of their economic income. The earned income credit might help those at the low end, but it does nothing much for the middle class.

Posted by: Jim Maule | Jul 28, 2011 5:30:57 PM

People who advocate raising taxes on income over $250,000 or some higher figure aren't doing it just to be mean, it's that the alternative is to introduce very painful cuts on the poor and even middle class.

There are all sorts of ways to define what is fair; asking those who benefit the most to pay the most is one of them.

Posted by: GaryD | Jul 29, 2011 8:18:55 AM

Hm. Isn't the money Buffett receives as Income that is taxed at what he says is 17.7%, already taxed once as Income on the corporation that is paying him? So an accurate estimate of his tax rate would be a combination of those two rates (Profit produced by company - Corporate taxes - Buffett's taxes = money in his pocket)

Afluenza. A horrible disease. Makes one unable to add, it seems.

Posted by: Georg Felis | Jul 29, 2011 10:08:44 AM

Another myth of the R/tea party movement, the rich pay a higher percentage of taxes. In fact they do! It is because under the R administration, most of the wealth was transported to the rich. Here is a simple exmaple for the simple R/tea minds. Two people have incomes of $50,000. The tax rate is 10%. They both pay $5,000 in taxes. Next, special laws were passed to allow one of these members to increase his income. Now two people have incomes of $10,000 and $90,000. Once person pays $9,000 and the other $1,000. The person who pays $9,000 now joins the tea party and complains he pays more in taxes-Buffet is right and the tea writer needs to drink some coffee.

Posted by: Nick | Jul 29, 2011 11:38:14 AM