If only a struck dog yelps, then billionaire Warren Buffett has struck the anti-tax, anti-government crowd. They are yelping about his call to tax the super-rich.
“Our leaders have asked for ‘shared sacrifice.’ But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched,” wrote Buffett in a New York Times column. “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.”
He said that he paid in 2010 almost $7 million in income taxes and payroll taxes.
“But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income – and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office,” wrote Buffett.
He then explained sources of government revenue.
“Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes,” said Buffett. “It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.”
According to a 2010 Forbes magazine ranking, Buffett was the third richest man in the world with a net worth of $47 billion.
Under the column title of “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich,” Buffett took on one of the standard arguments of the anti-tax, anti-government coddlers. That is – if taxes are increased on the rich, the rich will refuse to invest. If the rich don’t invest, jobs will not be created.
“I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone – not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 – shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain,” argued Buffett.
He pointed out: “People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.”
Known as the oracle of Omaha for his investment wisdom, Buffett said, “My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.”
The anti-tax, anti-government crowd launched a series of cynical responses.
Cal Thomas sarcastically wrote that Buffett should pay his secretary more and referred to the American government as confiscating wealth.
He claimed that the debt problem was a spending problem, not a revenue problem.
But Thomas didn’t speak to the issue of shared sacrifice.
Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, said if Buffett really felt the way he did, then he should just pay more to the government.
“If you think the government is entitled to steal more of your money for dubious, stupid, and wasteful programs, then give the government more of your own money,” he yelped.
But Bandow didn’t speak to the issue of shared sacrifice.
Another Cato Institute fellow, Jeffrey Miron, wrote that Buffett “is wrong” and “singling out the super-rich is misguided.”
The nation didn’t have enough super-rich folk “to make much difference to our budget problems,” said Miron, who wrote that “focusing on the super-rich also fosters a counterproductive attitude toward material success.”
Miron aligned himself with Buffett’s high-dollar investment clients: “Buffett asserts that taxing capital income has never deterred anyone from investing. Well, then he has never discussed the issue with me or many of my friends.”
Miron didn’t speak to the issue of shared sacrifice.
“I have a suggestion. Mr. Buffett, write a big check today. There’s nothing you have to wait for,” said Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann.
“So perhaps Mr. Buffett would like to give away his entire fortune above $200,000. That’s what you want to do? Have at it. Give it to the federal government. But don’t ask the rest of us to have our taxes increased because you want to have a sound bite,” she said in South Carolina.
She said that “taxes are high enough already.”
Often challenged on the facts, she misrepresented what Buffet said. He didn’t even mention the figure of $200,000.
Bachmann didn’t speak to the issue of shared sacrifice.
Without shared sacrifice, how does the nation manage its debt, while it protects the vulnerable and creates the kind of good society that ensures clean water and air, safe foods, decent highways, good education, needed firefighters and police officers, improved health?
What’s really behind the anti-tax, anti-government crowd’s opposition to shared sacrifice?
Watch the trailer below for EthicsDaily.com’s documentary on faith and taxes, “Sacred Texts, Social Duty,” and click here to learn more about it.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.