Warren Buffett must be, George Soros aside, the liberal’s favorite billionaire. But is his plea to “tax me more!” good policy?

You’d expect a liberal professor or professional activist to call for higher tax rates, but when Buffett says that higher rates are needed, well, it’s game, set, and match, right? After all, Buffett’s a billionaire, so there’s the “Nixon goes to China” aspect to it. Plus, he got wealthy by making a lot of smart investments, so he must be smart about tax policy, too! Finally, there’s a folk-wisdom appeal to his statement (I’m paraphrasing here), “I pay less of my income in taxes than my secretary, and that’s not right.”

So is Buffett selling us a sound investment, or the policy equivalent of a Chia pet?

The Wall Street Journal editorial board (“Warren Buffet’s Tax Dodge“) points out that much of Buffett’s income comes through capital gains, which are often taxed at a lower rate than wage income. But that’s not the whole story: “much of his income was already taxed once as corporate income, which is assessed at a 35 percent rate (less deductions). The 15 percent levy on capital gains and dividends to individuals is thus a double tax that takes the overall tax rate on that corporate income closer to 45 percent.”

Timothy P. Carney, writing at Washington Examiner, reminds us that Buffett’s businesses profit handsomely from high tax rates, which have induced fire-sale corporate liquidations involving families forced to sell their businesses to pay for the death tax. “Soak the rich” tax policies also drive the sale of insurance products used for estate-planning purposes–an enterprise that would for the most part be unneeded without a death tax.

So there’s the self-interest angle, though I agree with┬áKatherine Mangu-Ward of the blog Hit and Run that we shouldn’t carry this argument too far. Buffett may simply (incorrectly) view his advice as being best for the nation.

Daniel J. Mitchel, for his part, says that we ought to draw a lesson from this discussion: go to a flat tax to eliminate double taxation and tax-planning games. Sounds good to me.

If you want to pay more in federal taxes, you certainly can. Minnesota law, meanwhile, has established a means to receive voluntary contributions to the state fisc.:

“The commissioner of management and budget is authorized to receive and accept, on behalf of the state, any gift, bequest, devise, or endowment which may be made by any person, by will, deed, gift, or otherwise, to or for the benefit of the state, or any of its departments or agencies, or to or in aid, or for the benefit, support, or maintenance of any educational, charitable, or other institution maintained in whole or in part by the state, or for the benefit of students, employees, or inmates thereof, or for any proper state purpose or function, and the money, property, or funds constituting such gift, bequest, devise, or endowment.”

Advocates of “tax the rich” (hint: they’re already taxed) speak of the need for them to make more “contributions.” If you’re feeling guilty about your tax bill and you’re rich–or not rich–feel free to “pay more for a better Minnesota.”


Jeffrey Miron makes an argument I’ve seen elsewhere, which is that taxing the super-rich won’t fix the federal government’s budget woes. Imposing a 10-percent surcharge on those filers with an income of above $1 million would yield … 2 percent of all federal spending. To make a dent, you’ve got to go after the middle class and middle-class goodies such as Medicare, the home-mortgage-interest deduction, and tax breaks for employer-sponsored health insurance. Of course, none of that as politically popular as saying “tax the rich.” Miron also calls out policies that restrict economic growth, which harm the non-rich the most.