To test [Buffett's] notion, Salon launched the Patriotic Billionaire Challenge. We put the question to every member of the “Forbes 400″ list, all of them with a net worth of at least $1 billion: “Are you, like Warren Buffett, willing to pay higher taxes?”
The results are in. Of 400 billionaires, only eight (including Buffett) say they are willing to pay more.
Ah, but there’s a catch: It would appear that only 12 of the 400 responded to Salon’s queries. A 3 percent response rate doesn’t mean squat.
But that’s not to say nothing interesting came of the exercise.
Finocchiaro shared some of the comments from the respondents, and they add a serious degree of nuance to Buffett’s “hey, rich people are ready to pay more” mantra.
Todd Wagner, co-owner and CEO of 2929 Entertainment ($1.2B), said, “I’m a lucky guy. I have no issue paying more.” But he added that the revenue raised would only amount to “maybe 8 to 12 percent of what’s needed, based on what everyone thinks we need to get the debt under control.”
“Where’s the rest come from? Military cuts? Raising the age on social security or medicare? I don’t have that answer. But I know that that’s the difficult part of it.
“The problem is nobody trusts how the government spends it. We all feel a little concerned that it’s just dropping into a black hole. The wealthiest absolutely should pay more, but I also want to feel that it’s going to something that matters.” (emphasis added)
Hmmm…Buffett must have forgotten to include that part of the thinking of his “mega-rich friends.” But Wagner’s not alone in feeling that way. Here’s Example Two: Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban:
What I have a problem with is how the money is spent. If the incremental money could be directed to defined and deserved recipients. I would be thrilled to write the check.
The problem I have is not on the revenue side, its on the expenditure side. Too much money is wasted on bureaucracy, adminis-trivia, pensions and over-expansive federal employment.
So I’m a resounding yes on more taxes, but an attachment to the funding to be directly spent on approved programs. If a program doesn’t deliver 95 percent or better to its intended recipients, it should be put on hold until it does. (emphasis added)
Ninety-five percent or better? Has Cuban ever dealt with the federal government? With that kind of standard, we might not have to raise anyone’s taxes to balance the budget.
All joking aside, these are important points that have been left out of the debate about whether the “rich” are willing to pay more in taxes. Obviously, some of them are willing to do so. But not a single one of them could have made it to the Forbes 400 if they’d run their businesses the way our federal government is run. And I don’t only mean from a cost-control standpoint: How many of them would have tolerated operations that not only ran over-budget, but under-performed — year after year?
I’d be willing to bet Wagner’s and Cuban’s sentiments — we’ll pay more, but not to sustain Washington the way it’s run now — are quite common among Buffett’s “mega-rich friends.”
Gee, I wonder why President Obama’s best bud in Omaha left that out of his op-ed?
– By Kyle Wingfield