Posted by 5 years ago
"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." -Warren Buffett, chief exec of Berkshire Hathaway
Stop Coddling the Super-Rich
By WARREN E. BUFFETT
Published: August 14, 2011
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.
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.
Last year my federal tax bill - the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf - was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. 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. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.
If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine - most likely by a lot.
To understand why, you need to examine the 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. 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.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.
I didn't refuse, nor did others. 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. 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.
Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion - a staggering $227.4 million on average - but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.
The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)
I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn't mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.
Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country's finances. They've been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It's vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country's fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality.
Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can't fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.
But for those making more than $1 million - there were 236,883 such households in 2009 - I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more - there were 8,274 in 2009 - I would suggest an additional increase in rate.
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.
it will be entertaining as hell to view the many economic charts and muddled meanderings of Captain Google and his keyboard brigade in about a week.
Last year my federal tax bill - the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf - was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income
The wonder of Google, Richard is that it searches articles from sites of all persuasions, rather than just regurgitating what the Kos Kids,
DU'ers, or Huffponauts underlined for you that day
A little bar-napkin math shows that Mr Buffett apparently only declared about $40 million in income, which, for a 40+-billionaire is an obscenely low number. But I'm sure the jump in marginal rates from 36 to 40 or 50 or 90 or whatever the progressive definition of 'fair' is would ensure that the guy hiding 90% of his income from taxation in the first place is going to suddenly pay his fair share
You should google the difference between 'worth' and 'income'.
It is true that Google does search articles from sites of all persuasions. I'd encourage you to try reading some articles from publications like the Atlantic and the Economist.
You should google the difference between 'worth' and 'income'.
Your statement is just ridiculously flawed.
All that proves is that if one lives with Rick long enough, it WILL rub off on you!
By most accounts, Warren added $3 billion (with a B) to his net worth last year. And he only presented $40 million for taxation.
Yeah, I think I'm perfectly aware of the difference...
"If he really wanted to make (the tax code) fair, why doesn't he propose a wealth tax on everyone over $1 billion worth of wealth of 50 percent once and for all," Laffer said. "That would really work for him, but of course he's not going to suggest that because he would have to pay that."
Laffer said most of Buffett's wealth is in unrealized capital gains. "It's never seen a tax, and when he gives (the investments) to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it never will. This is ridiculous," he said.
The Laffer curve shows the relationship between tax rates and tax revenue. Its creator said that if "you raise tax rates on the rich, all the evidence suggests they pay less in taxes, because they can get lawyers, accountants, deferred-income specialists. They can change the location of their income, the timing of their income, the composition, and the location. They just leave."
I don't know the ins and outs of Mr. Buffet's financial dealings, nor do I buy his "just one of the folks" spiel but it's not beyond the realm of possibility that his taxable income was only $40 million.
He flat out said that if Buffet dislikes his low INCOME tax so much, he should be suggesting a tax on his WORTH. Buffet has plainly stated income tax on the wealthy is insufficient.
Even more striking to me is a fact that Mr Buffett did not emphasize: how low his taxable income is. His income of $46 million represents a mere 0.1 percent of his reported net worth of over $50 billion. That is not an impressive rate of return!
Why is it so low? I can think of at least four possible ways investors like Mr Buffet can keep their taxable income, as opposed to their true income, low:
They hold stocks that pay minimal dividends.
They avoid realizing capital gains.
They hold some of their portfolios in tax-free municipal bonds.
They give appreciated assets to charity, getting a deduction for the current market value without ever having to realize and pay tax on the capital gain.
Notice that raising tax rates, as Mr Buffett seems to want to do, would not much affect any of these tax avoidance strategies. Even if tax rates were raised substantially, the tax savvy Mr Buffet probably wouldn't be paying much in taxes as a proportion of his wealth or as a proportion of his true income.