Thursday, November 01, 2007

This Guy Again

Warren Buffet continues to annoy me. Right now he's grousing that he doesn't pay enough taxes. Apparently, he gets by with only 17.7% in taxes while some lesser-paid employees at his firm (such as his presumably buxom secretary) fork over 30%. His solution to this injustice (as injustice it surely is)? Tax Me More.

What an asinine political character Buffet is! If he thinks there's an inequality in the tax code - and apparently, there is - then shouldn't he really be advocating rolling back his secretary's taxes rather than pushing to increase his own? I mean, 30% is no trivial sum at any income level. Why does he want to keep his secretary paying this punitive rate on her labor?

But no, heartless Buffet would rather simply up his own ante - which is surely peanuts to a guy who owns billions, but only pays taxes on tens of millions of it. Bumping his tax bracket up another 10% makes little difference to him. But to his hard-working secretary, a 10% pay increase would no doubt mean a great deal. After all, she's earning in the tens of thousands, not the tens of millions. Her necessities expenses eat up most of her budget - which is certainly not the case with Buffet.

More to the point, there is really nothing stopping Buffet from correcting this "injustice" himself. If he wants to pay more in taxes but the mean ol' government won't let him, then why can't just just give what he would have paid in taxes back to his employees in bonuses? He could have a charitable "my evil tax break" bonus and share the wealth a bit at Christmas, no? Take the $4.6million extra a year he thinks he should be taxed, divide it by the number of "middle-" or "working-" class people he employs, and give them all their share? Better yet, in this fabulous age of the spectacular calculator known as the home computer, he could crank out some C++ and write a program to figure out how much each of his employees would save if the government lowered their marginal rates to 17.7% and ... pay them that much out of his own pocket. Put, in other words, his goddamned money where his mealy mouth is.

Buffet is right that rich people shouldn't be in lower tax brackets. But then, neither should poor people. Neither should ANYONE pay a different rate of taxes just because they earn more or less. We all sail on this ship, and we all take advantage of its services. It is immoral to tax anyone at a different rate than anyone else for the same benefits of citizenship.

Probably, in fact, we shouldn't have an income tax at all. One interesting alternative is the so-called Fair Tax - a national sales tax that would replace income taxes altogether. That way, the people who use the system the most (in terms of purchasing the most) really would be taxed the most. But - crucially - everyone would be taxed at the same rate. This has the twin benefits of (a) being considerably more ethical than our current system of singling out people based on relative productivity and (b) it would really hammer home just how expensive the welfare state is; taxes would be transparent again.

I haven't formed a fixed opinion on the Fair Tax yet. I prefer to read the book first.

But here is something that I think all fair-minded people can agree on. Taxes should NOT be arbitrary. They should NOT be the kind of thing that can be raised and lowered at the whim of the govenment. Taxes should be fair, and they should be limited, and the government should have to operate within those limits. After all, we're talking about taking money from people who earned it and giving it to people who didn't to dispose of as they see fit. To the extent that they spend it on funding public arts, paying for a senseless war on drugs, enforcing smoking bans, and giving it away for free in the form of welfare payments to unproductive people who cannot be bothered to work just to buy their votes, they are abusing their power. The Constitution probably ought to have something to say about that.

But this isn't a post about that. This is a post about "Tax Me More." Astute readers will have noticed that the link above goes to an interesting suggestion (not just a cheap joke - this has actually been tried in several states including Kansas, Arkansas and Montana) - that we could have a national voluntary "tax me more" fund to allow hypocrites like Warren Buffet the opportunity to put their money where their mouths are. The plan is simple: anyone who publicly favors raising taxes has the opportunity to pay more on their own reconnaissance into a voluntary fund. So you get your tax bill, and if you're one of those people who thinks we should raise taxes, and you really believe in what you say, you are free to write the government a check. Call it a charitable donation. That way, you can do your part to pay for the programs you think are necessary without forcing anyone else to fund your bullshit.

Now, the leftists will whine and carry on about this because, they'll say, "greedy" people will opt not to pay any more at all, and "good" people will instead choose to give their surplus to charity. But that is the whole bleeding point: charity does a better job caring for the poor and everyone bloody knows it. People who wish to do "good" do not voluntarily give their money to the government, which invariably makes a mess of it. Which is why, for cryin' out loud, people don't like paying taxes!!! It isn't (in most cases) because they're "greedy," it's because they resent - with very good reason - being forced to give up a percentage of what they earn to poorly-implemented crackpot schemes. Given the choice, who wouldn't give to charity? But the main thrust here is that people should be given the choice. Aside from what is necessary to support the essential services of government (like the police, the court system and the military), people should not be forced to give up their hard-earned money at all.

Predictably, the Arkansas "Tax Me More" fund failed to raise much more than $2000. And that is because - shocking as this may be to Bill Clinton and ilk - most people actually do resent paying taxes. Talk is cheap. It's easy to talk about how you like to pay taxes; it's how much you pay when they're voluntary that defines your real commitment. It's easy to talk about caring and sharing and helping people when it's other people's money you're doing it with; what makes you a moral person is how much of your own money you're willing to put to the programs you advocate.

I would like to make a humble prediction how much Warren Buffet is willing to put into a "Tax Me More" fund: $0.0million.

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