Possibly benevolent billionaire Warren Buffett has a message for everyone, via the New York Times op-ed page: Apparently, he — and, in his words, his "mega-rich" friends — will be able to maintain their vast wealth without any more help from the government in the form of tax breaks. In a column straightforwardly titled "Stop Coddling the Super-Rich," the Berkshire Hathaway head wrote:
While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.
These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.
But, Buffett continues, things are already nice enough for him. For example, his federal tax bill last year was $6,938,744. Sure, he says, that sounds like a lot, but it's actually kind of not (you know, relatively). As he was kind enough to explain, that's only 17.4 percent of his taxable income; his employees' average tax burden was 36 percent. And it turns out that he and his cohort would be willing to part with a lot more:
I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.
His suggestion for Congress? Raise tax rates for the 236,883 American households that earned over $1 million in 2009, and raise them even more for the 8,274 that brought in $10 million-plus. Will that ever actually happen? Probably not , but we guess it's nice to know that Warren wouldn't mind if it did. After all, it's the thought that counts — except for when you have a massive budget deficit, that is. Then it's really only actual money that counts.