Thursday, November 1, 2007 0 comments ++[ CLICK TO COMMENT ]++

Buffett: Inequitable Taxes

One of the big question in politics is taxation. Many have pointed out that the taxation burden on working class and middle class are increasing while it shifts away from the upper classes. Warren Buffett is one of those who is in favour of increasing the taxes at the higher end. He points out how he pays a lower tax rate than anyone else in his office, including the secretary. Here is Warren Buffett being interviewed by Tom Brokaw of NBC (transcript courtesy CNBC):

Warren: Yeah. I-- I-- I am surprised-- it may be that everybody wants to be cautious-- while they're looking to get nominated, but-- but the degree to which the-- economic-- well, the taxation system has tilted toward the rich and away from the middle class in the last ten years is-- is dramatic, and I don't think it's appreciated. And I think it should be addressed.

Tom: You've gone very public with this.

Warren: Right.

Tom: You've talked about in your office, for example, you pay a much lower tax rate with all of your wealth than, say, a receptionist does.

Warren: That's exactly right, Tom. And I-- I think the only way to do it is with specifics, and-- and - and in our office, 15 people cooperated in a survey out of 18. I didn't make anybody do it. And my total taxes paid-- payroll taxes plus income tax-- and the payroll tax is an income tax. It's based on income.

Tom: Yeah.

Warren: Mine came to-- 17.7 percent. That-- that was the-- that was line 61 I think-- or, no, line 43-- is the percent of taxable income, plus payroll taxes, 17.7 percent. The average for the office was 32.9 percent. There wasn't anybody in the office from the receptionist on that paid as low a tax rate. And I have no tax planning. I don't have an-- I don't have a-- an accountant. I don't have tax shelters. I just follow what the U.S. Congress tells me to do.

One thing that I have ignored in the past is the payroll tax. As Warren Buffett alludes to below, that is a huge burden for the lower classes:

Tom: Why do you think that there's not more outrage about that?

Warren: I-- I don't think people understand it. For one thing, you'll see a lot of surveys that say the rich, the top one percent pay this much of the income tax. Now I think what people don't realize is that almost one third of the entire budget comes from payroll taxes. And payroll taxes on income, just like income taxes are taxes on income.

And the payroll tax is over $800 billion out of two and a trillion, or something like that. And people don't understand-- they-- they-- that the rich pay practically no payroll tax. I mean, I paid payroll tax last year on $90 odd thousand, whatever the number is. I paid income tax on $66 million. But my double income tax, one of 'em quits at $90,000. And the remaining $66 million does not get taxed with payroll tax. So, the person who makes $60,000 in our office gets ta-- taxed in full on the payroll tax, and taxed in full on the income tax. And-- and all the statistics you read, particularly the one don't like taxes, well now, they totally ignore the payroll tax. And it's huge now.

Basically the crux of the problem is that the wealthy (i) generally get taxed at the lower rates of capital gains and dividends, and (ii) don't pay (or pay a small of) payroll tax.

When asked about the best tax system in his view, Buffett had this to say:

Tom: Of all the tax lines that you've seen proposed over the years, a flat tax, a consumption tax, a more progressive income tax, which is the one that appeals to you the most?

Warren: Well, in theory a progressive consumption tax makes the most sense. I mean, if you tax the people who use the resources of society rather than ones who-- who-- who provide the resources of society, that makes more sense. And a consumption tax can be very progressive.

You can have just an unlimited IRA. As long as you invest money, and don't actually spend it for yourself, or your kids don't spend it, or whatever-- you don't get taxed. As soon as you start making withdrawals from society's bank, start using the resources, the-- the sweat of other people to-- benefit yourself, you would pay on that. That-- that's the one that makes the most sense. I don't-- it isn't gonna happen-- in all likelihood.

Certainly the worst taxes-- is something like a sales tax. I would say that we've got a pretty bad system, when we tax the person who-- who cleans out my office, the receptionist. They are paying 15-- payroll taxes, over 15 percent now, just for openers.

That is an interesting idea. I haven't run across the idea of having an unlimited tax shelter for investments (IRA) and taxing consumption/withdrawls.

I consider myself to be a liberal-libertarian and taxes is something that I am unsure about. Most libertarian-types seek a flat tax because they view that as being fair (since everyone pays the same rate regardless of who you are, or how rich or poor your are). I haven't formed a strong opinion on what is best. I'm pretty radical and have strong views when it comes to most political, social, or economic issues... but not taxes...

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