What Warren Buffett didn’t mention about the ‘mega-rich’ who would pay higher taxes

Remember that op-ed Warren Buffett wrote about his “mega-rich friends” being willing to pay more taxes? Well, so did Salon’s Peter Finocchiaro. And he didn’t take the super-investor’s word for it:

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.

Example One:

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

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99 comments Add your comment

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

October 12th, 2011
5:43 am

The mega rich agree.

It’s the spending, stupid.

Streetracer

October 12th, 2011
5:51 am

I would be willing to pay more taxes once the government cuts the giveaways to the point that my present federal income tax is less than a Section 8 housing subsidy.

JF McNamara

October 12th, 2011
6:31 am

As a wealth creating landlord, I’m for section 8. Its one of the few government programs that provides value to me. Why don’t you go harp on the EPA or something?

Stephenson Billings

October 12th, 2011
6:36 am

It’s never been about revenue, but “fairness”. Obama even said so himself.

Streetracer

October 12th, 2011
6:39 am

JF McNamara – I’m an enviromental engineer. EPA regulations (especially the stupid ones) create work, if not wealth, for me.

DeborahinAthens

October 12th, 2011
6:40 am

A few points here: if only 12 rich people responded and eight said they didn’t mind paying more in taxes, that is a huge percentage…can one extrapolate from the small sample? No. But if eight out of twelve had said “no”, I bet we would not have heard about the small sample. I am in the next to highest tax bracket and my real estate taxes are coming up in November, and I really don’t mind. I want my streets paved, my fire department ready and prepared. I want my military ready and prepared. I want all the kids in my state to have access to a good education–whether they go to a Christian “academy” or the public school. Any society is only as strong as the weakest link, and policies espoused by nut jobs like Bachmann and the seriously drugged Rick Perry are guaranteed to rip apart the fabric of our society. Herman Cain sometimes makes sense, but his 999 plan is a joke and is not a viable plan. And now I hear his assertion that one (!!!!) economist has vetted it and approved it is a lie. The guy he named is not an economist. When will these slimy politicians learn that it is too easy to check out and find out they are lying? Last point. It has been proven that lower taxes do not improve the economy, nor do they create jobs. This was proved under Reagan and under George W. Bush. Put the personal tax rates back to where they were during Clinton’s administration, when we had full employment. Lower the corporate tax rate to 15% and eliminate all the tax loopholes and giveaways (the corporations will scream in agony!).

Skip

October 12th, 2011
6:41 am

Tax the poor, you have so many to choose from.

Democratic Plantation Dweller

October 12th, 2011
6:44 am

The stimulus is working !

Democratic Logic

October 12th, 2011
6:46 am

Since 49% do NOT pay income tax, it only makes sense to raise taxes on the 51% that do pay taxes to balance our federal budget.

You should never tax the 49% that do not pay any income taxes.

Streetracer

October 12th, 2011
6:52 am

DeborahinAthens @ 6:40

I agree with most of what you said. But the problem is the whatever% of the population that is physically capable of taking care of themselves, sits home and watches Jerry Springer or whatever and expects other people to support them.

Ayn Rant

October 12th, 2011
6:55 am

The mega-rich agree they should not pay more taxes? The lower and middle-income wage-earner don’t want to pay more taxes either.

All those wasteful and bureaucratic government programs that are referred to, but never cited, don’t amount to a hill of beans compared to the wasteful spending on cold-war military programs and the health care racket.

We should have taxed excess income all along instead of borrowing it at current interest rates, and ratcheting up the national debt!

Drive By Blogger

October 12th, 2011
7:10 am

Uh… hello?

Have these pie-in-the-sky idealists ever looked at an actual tax return? If they are so eager to pay more taxes, there’s a little blank at the end that allows them to pay additionally whatever their self-righteous little hearts’ desire. Talk is cheap… and so are they.

Warren Buffet

October 12th, 2011
7:23 am

I’m for a MILLIONAIRE tax …dummies.
.
I never said I want to tax Billionaires…sheesh.

Ronnie Raygun

October 12th, 2011
7:25 am

Republicans must really love the poor, every time they gain power in DC they always create so many of them. Let’s elect more of them so they can finish the job and put the rest of us out of work.

ragnar danneskjold

October 12th, 2011
7:27 am

Good-humored essay, compliments. Best guess, the 388 who did not respond are mapping plans to move to Hong Kong.

Jack

October 12th, 2011
7:31 am

I don’t like they way the government is spending my tax dollars now and don’t want to pay more taxes in order that “disenfranchised” slugs can live even better. I’d pay more tax if I knew for sure the money would go to building more jails and hiring more police. My tax dollars today are helping support the squatters at Woodruff Park. Buffett should come to the park and hand out some money if he’s so generous.

Techfan

October 12th, 2011
7:33 am

There’s a simple solution. Only charge taxes on the growth in real income since 1980 and have everyone pay their fair share.

laurie

October 12th, 2011
7:35 am

Government spending has gotten way out of control, mostly because of all the silly programs and red tape put in place “to keep things fair”. We need to “rollback” programs and agencies created over the last 20 years, kind of like Walmart does with their prices.

Crenshaw8

October 12th, 2011
7:36 am

The 388 were too busy tending to their business and EMPLOYEES to make a comment.

Doug

October 12th, 2011
7:38 am

It’s funny for 2 years the media portrayed the tea party as racist and only showed them in a negative light. And who is the leading tea party candidate? A black guy.
Keep trying to promote these scum protestors. Never any arrests for tea party but these losers get arrested by the 100’s every day. Says all I need to know

MiltonMan

October 12th, 2011
7:43 am

Anyone – rich, poor, middle-class who do not think they are paying enough in taxes or feel like they should be taxed more are free to write a check to the government.

Buffet is a left-wing loon who speaks for no one but himself & his buddy Obozo. Why does he not just write & check & send it in?

JDW

October 12th, 2011
7:44 am

@ Kyle…”Gee, I wonder why President Obama’s best bud in Omaha left that out of his op-ed”

Probably for the same reason that you always neglect to mention that in 2000 a Republican President and Congress inherited a balanced budget and proceeded to get us into this mess by spending and ignoring their regulatory responsibilities.

On another subject from yesterday regarding your tax philosophies, seems Bloomberg and a large body of Republican economists don’t agree with you…

On the subject of lower tax rates for the “job creators”

“It isn’t true. Don’t take our word for it; we know this is so because of the work of Republican economists, who say little evidence exists that increased income-tax rates dampen hiring. If anything, the statistics point in the other direction: When taxes have risen, so have the number of jobs.”

And further down this little nugget…

“Then there is the argument that raising taxes on the rich will damage the small-business owners, many of whom pass their enterprise profits through to their personal income, where it’s taxed. By raising the top rate, the argument goes, entrepreneurs will have less profit with which to expand and hire.

Not really. The No. 1 reason that small-business owners say they’re not hiring is lack of consumer demand, not the burden of taxes. Moreover, a U.S. Treasury Department study of 2007 tax returns, released in August, concluded that only 8 percent of income covered by the top two tax brackets (33 and 35 percent) derived from small-business profits.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-10-07/atlas-should-shrug-at-u-s-senate-proposal-for-millionaires-surtax-view.html

I say again…why on earth should we trust many of the exact same concepts that got us into the mess to get us out. As conventional wisdom goes when you find your self in a hole quit digging! More tax breaks, especially at the upper levels is just more dirt.

GT

October 12th, 2011
7:52 am

This is similar to asking how many would join the arm services. Every recent president has dodged service and the press makes a big deal out of it, yet when the super rich dodge paying taxes it is a free country. You don’t get to negotiate how your taxes are spent no more than your get to negotiate where your tour of duty was in the draft days. You think the first people off that boat on D Day chose to be the ones to die first.

The point here is the “lucky ones” that have gain the most from this country are the least supportive of this country. If they can’t use it and abuse it, they choice to abandon it. I think if you sent them all out of this country and started over you would have a new crop of billionaires over night. Better ones that appreciated this country and hard work. I think the system not these individuals have made this country great and it is time we start respecting this nation and stop with the hero worshiping. The country is starting to see this and the last 20 years that the Republicans are trying to run from is catching up to them. The real power in this country is the immoral rich, who don’t pay taxes but have a over reaching influence in our affairs for there selfish purposes, no wonder we are in this condition. This activity reminds me of the mob, paying off public officials, never paying taxes and operating with their self interest above the nations.

Really?

October 12th, 2011
7:53 am

Nice cut-and-paste job (again) Kyle. They pay you for this? Really? I’m a university professor. We know (as does everyone else) that when students cut-and-paste they do so to take up space and appear thoughtful by including exactly what was said. They also do it so they don’t have to take the time to read and understand the source. Paraphrasing does that, cutting and pasting doesn’t. Really? They pay you for this? Really? Put in some work. You should be embarrassed to take their money. It’s really stealing. Really

joe

October 12th, 2011
8:11 am

People (especially politicians) can’t agree on anything these days. It’s all about me-me-me. If the mega-rich did pay more taxes, can you imagine the ongoing debate about where/how to spend the money: More or less defense? More or less healthcare? More or less education funding? More or less immigration control? Good luck to us all.

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

October 12th, 2011
8:14 am

“And now I hear his assertion that one (!!!!) economist has vetted it and approved it is a lie.”

It must be nice to be fully involved enough in the Cain campaign to know so much about everything going on in it to be able to assert that the candidate is lying about something. :roll:

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

October 12th, 2011
8:16 am

“The point here is the “lucky ones” that have gain the most from this country are the least supportive of this country.”

Yeah, ’cause staying in school, working hard and taking educated risks is all predetermined by “luck”. :roll:

Get on with it

October 12th, 2011
8:18 am

Wellfare, food stamps, free medical, free cell phones, free utilities, supporting illegal aliens, supporting the UN. Supporting (with millions) the president and Nancy Pelosi’s friends in the solar industry, spending money on jobs for overseas companies, paying Brazil to drill for oil that we can purchase instead of drilling our own oil, spending for date nights to Paris, New York and other cities for the President and his wife, the new Welfare program called unemployment that is now 3 years of benefits.

Yes, its not a spending problem and we so need to be taxing the rich more. Get a life. If we dont get a businessman in the Whitehouse and take the spending power away from the House and Senate who spend beyond their means we are sunk. Government is truely broken but they are surely planting their wealth by means of taking from the taxpayers.

Facts
Government does not create jobs.
Government can not take private monies from one party and give it to another party. (what they are doing with the stimulus and bailouts.).
Governments duties is to provide security, roads and bridges and border control. Thats IT people. They have forever been oversteping their bounds on the heals of the American people

Now they are trying to divide and conquer. Dont fall for it.

Butch

October 12th, 2011
8:18 am

Really?….I remember you posting about Tucker’s DAILY cut and paste as well….oh wait….no you didn’t….

Li'l Joe the Plutocrat

October 12th, 2011
8:25 am

coupla three things; 1 – Lil’ Barry is probably only 3/4 right. it is 3/4 ‘the spending’ and 1/4 taxes. 2 – whcih brings us to Todd Wagner; I don’t think Buffett believes increasing the tax rates “millionaires” is the answer to a balanced budget (”…only 8 – 12%…). it merely reflects a more rational/logical approach to the whole irrational tax codes. 3 – speaking of “stupid”; if millionaires and billionares got to be millionaires and billionaires because they paid 15% on income dervived from capital gains/deferred interest, or whatever; they are more than “lucky” (as Wagner describes themselves). their wealth is no different than the wealth amassed by virtue of corporate welfare in the form of pennies on the dollar grazing rights for cattle ranchers, R&D tax breaks afforded Big Pharm, corn/ethanol subsidies, etc. the bottom line is the bottom line, and 15% is not equal to 28% or 35%. it’s not “wealth envy” or class warfare; it’s basic accounting/math.

Streetracer

October 12th, 2011
8:31 am

Really?

You may like paraphraseing, but it can lead to intellectual dishonesty. One can paraphrase a statement and create the impression that it says something entirely different than the intent. I’m sure that you actually check all the citations to verify that the paraphrased discriptions are accurate. Right?

GT

October 12th, 2011
8:34 am

Tiberius you paint a picture of the middle class not the super rich. Jobs and Gates and hundreds more were drop outs. There are no requirements to be rich like there is with lawyers or doctors, which as a whole are not super rich. There is no character involved in making money either. That is why people were drawn to Jobs he showed a love of family, as said many times last week, that is not a trait we find in our super rich, very often.

This country has lost it character, the one your father or grandfather had. A congressman calls the president of the United States a liar in the State of the Union address, disrupts the speech with tasteless impulses. Really? is exactly right our journalist have gotten lazy and can be bought. The rich have taken advantage of our weaknesses like a terrorist. Sex and celebrity sales, nothing productive about it or healthy but it has made many rich in this country. Dumbing down America means more weakness that can be taken advantage of. The super rich even get the middle class to carry the water for them. Like blacks on a plantation supporting the masters. Nothing brilliant about the plantation owners just got there first, and the poor black guys lost in a game of musical chairs.

carlosgvv

October 12th, 2011
8:38 am

So, the rich don’t want to pay any more taxes because they don’t trust how the government will spend it. This gives me a great idea! Since no one trusts how the government spends our tax money lets just stop paying any taxes. Of course, we can’t do this. And, since the rich own the politicians, they can easily direct how any taxes are spent. The truth is, money is the one and only thing these rich care anything about and they will do everything they can to protect every dollar they have.

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

October 12th, 2011
8:39 am

“Tiberius you paint a picture of the middle class not the super rich.”

And just how many “super rich” people do you know on a first name basis to make that claim, GT?

GT

October 12th, 2011
8:52 am

Get on with it you are brain washed. In our own state run by smirking fat Republicans there is a county call Crisp. In that county there was an industrial bond issued for tens of millions to bring a plastic recycling business and landfill to the empowerment zone, yes a Republican sponsored empowerment zone in Crisp County. The plastic business has been shut down, ran by a political insider from Macon, for dumping raw sewage into field next door. Had dozens of illegal immigrant workers found during the raid of the facility and the owner is under investigation for activity and accountability of the industrial bond money. You call up and ask anyone in Crisp County government about this plant and they will hang the phone up, they all have a hand in it and they, as Republican do, are running from it. How much have we heard about this facility in this paper? Yet this was at least 20% of the lost of Solyndra LLC, for one of the poorest states in the union. This was straight up corruption right under our noses but we get more juiced up about a legitimate effort to compete with the Chinese in solar power that probably went bad because this country refuses to buy USA. We are our own worst enemies.

GT

October 12th, 2011
8:57 am

Tiberius non of my Christian friends knew Jesus either.

Tall

October 12th, 2011
9:01 am

Kyle:

Good column. I’ll add to the column that Mr. Buffet could pay more to the government but chooses to donate to charities because they use the proceeeds more efficiently. Mr. Cuban’s statement…

“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…”.

confirms that there is NO need to raise taxes on anyone. There is little political will to stop the waste of tax dollars.

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

October 12th, 2011
9:11 am

So, as usual, GT, you’re making sweeping statements about people you know nothing about.

Got it.

GT

October 12th, 2011
9:14 am

Tiberius, how well do you know Obama?

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

October 12th, 2011
9:26 am

“Tiberius, how well do you know Obama?”

Let’s see . . . .

How well do I know the leader of the free world, whose policies and personal life has been documented ad nauseum by a fawning media, vs. some of the most reclusive and least known rich people in America?

Is that the lame point you’re trying to make, GT?

Nice try on the deflection, but another classic failure on your part.

Stevie Ray

October 12th, 2011
9:28 am

Kyle,

Amen brother…the most interesting factoids here are that Warren is in the short minority of superwealthy who’s total income is carried interest taxed at 20% or so. The second is that the vast majority of megarich on annual income basis, are paid salaries with occasional cap gains and that taxing them 100% would only make a 15% dent in the deficit.

Also, I’m wondering two things about these folks on Wall Street referring to themselves as the 99% and attempting to draw attention to the corrupt relationship between Wall Street and DC. First, the 99th percentile are those making above $1.4 million. Almost 20% of folks make over $100,000. Almost 50% make over $50K. These folks will never make a difference protesting outside of DC where 90% of those not trusting Congress would love to appear beside these folks. The White House and Congress should be targeted but big fun would be to clog up K Street not allowing lobbyist to even get to their offices…Thoughts?

Junior Samples

October 12th, 2011
9:32 am

GT,

Not to burst your buble on Steve Jobs, but he denied paternity of Lisa. Her mother raised her while on welfare.

Stevie Ray

October 12th, 2011
9:35 am

Carlos,

Do you like investing your hard earned cash into money pits that are likely to get maybe .50 on the dollar of value. In other words, you make an investment of $1.00 and your account balance immediately shows .50 because the other .50 is account maintenance, fees and other undefinable waste? Hell, even United Way gets 91% of it’s donations to deserving folks.

Also, how much offset do you suppose increasing the tax on whatever you define as “rich” will afford? You carry on like it is a magic bullet but it is really the need to blame others disguised as anger…

UGA 1999

October 12th, 2011
9:42 am

Warren Buffett should have just spoken for himself instead of saying all of the wealthy need to pay more. Classless.

Billings

October 12th, 2011
9:43 am

Has Buffett released the $1 billion held up in litigation with the IRS?

Free it up, Warren! Your secretary could use that money.

Until then, STFU! Don’t expect me to share in your guilty pleasures.

UGA 1999

October 12th, 2011
9:43 am

Junior….Steve Jobs was also an orphan and a college drop out. So what? He still changed the world.

Road Scholar

October 12th, 2011
9:49 am

Hey Kyle! Your next story should be about Crisp County. This will demonstrate your ability to research and address comments that you only cut and paste! Or will you put your head in the sand because it posibly could show your beloved party is crooked?

Dirty Dawg

October 12th, 2011
9:49 am

Hey ‘really?’…you don’t ‘really’ think that Kyle here ‘really’ worries about what you said about him, do you, really? You see it’s like what ‘con men’ always say, ‘I didn’t take it from them, they gave it to me’…same with the AJC and Cox, they give it to him and don’t really care what he does to ‘earn it’. After all, that’s The American Way.

One other thing Kyle…think of this revenue issue like you would brushing your teeth – you do brush your teeth, don’t you? You have to have tooth paste to do it, and so you push the paste out of the tube – from the bottom – and when there’s no more in the bottom, naturally you have to squeeze it from the top…unless of course you don’t plan to brush your teeth anymore…which is kinda what that Grover guy (not the Sesame Street one, the ‘drown it in a bathtub’ one) wants. And while I’m on it, who pulls Norquist’s strings? Surely one person doesn’t just declare himself ‘God of No Taxes’ and can dictate to all those politicians what to do. No, some greedy billionaire cabal is behind him and they, the pols, know it. Maybe what’s needed is for ‘The Occupiers’ to require pols to sign a pledge to ‘get the damn money out of politics’ – public financing of campaigns and no more campaign contributions from any source…then we’ll see who the ‘honest’ ones are, assuming there are any.

Terrence

October 12th, 2011
9:50 am

Goldman May Drop Bank Status to Sidestep Volcker Rule Costs, Hilder Says

Take the money and run but don’t forget to set aside your campaign contribution to Obama.

Dirty Dawg

October 12th, 2011
9:58 am

Oh, by the way Kyle, I asked if you actually brush your teeth because one of your predecessors, Lewis Grizzard, didn’t and you see where it got him…come to think of it, why don’t you just stop brushing just to demonstrate that you, and correspondingly us and tax revenue, don’t need to?