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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

WASHINGTON — Maybe only a really, really rich guy can credibly make the case for why the wealthy should be asked to pay more in taxes. You can’t accuse a big capitalist of “class warfare.” That’s why the right wing despises Warren Buffett and is trying so hard to shut him up.

Militant conservatives are effective because they are absolutely shameless. Many of the same people who think the rich should be free to spend unlimited sums influencing our politics without having to disclose anything are now asking Buffett to make his tax returns public. I guess if you’re indifferent to consistency, you have a lot of freedom of action.

Buffett has outraged conservatives by saying that he pays taxes at a lower rate than his secretary. He’s said this for years, but he’s a target now because President Obama is using his comment to make the case for higher taxes on millionaires.

Thus did The Wall Street Journal editorial page call on Buffett to “let everyone else in on his secrets of tax avoidance by releasing his tax returns.”

Somehow, the Journal did not think to ask its friends who battle vigorously for low taxes on capital gains to release their tax returns, too. But aren’t they just as engaged in this argument as Buffett is? Shouldn’t accountability go both ways? Nor, by the way, did the Journal suggest that the Koch brothers could serve the public interest by releasing a full accounting of all their political spending.

Buffett’s sin is that he spoke a truth that conservatives want to keep covered up: Taxing capital gains at 15 percent means that people who make their money from investments pay taxes at a much lower marginal rate than those who earn more than $34,500 a year from their labor. That’s when the income tax rate goes up to 25 percent. (For joint filers, the 25 percent rate kicks in at $69,000.) For singles, the 28 percent bracket starts at $83,600, the 33 percent bracket at $174,400.

So if an investor such as Buffett pockets, say, $100 million of his income in capital gains, he pays only a 15 percent tax on all that money. For everyday working people, the 15 percent rate applies only to earnings between $8,500 and $34,500. After that, they’re paying a higher marginal rate than the multimillionaire pays on gains from investments. Oh, yes, and before Obama temporarily cut it by two points, the payroll tax added another 6.2 percent to the burden on middle-class workers. That levy doesn’t apply to capital gains, or to income above $106,800, so it hits low- and middle-income workers much harder than the wealthy.

No wonder partisans of low taxes on wealthy investors hate Warren Buffett. He has forced a national conversation on (1) the bias of the tax system against labor; (2) the fact that in comparison with middle- or upper-middle class people, the really wealthy pay a remarkably low percentage of their income in taxes; and (3) the deeply regressive nature of the payroll tax.

And it’s worth noticing that while conservatives who talk about religion get a lot of coverage — and I will always defend their freedom to speak of faith in the public square — what really get the juices flowing on the right these days are tax rates. I’m not sure that a politician who renounced the Almighty would get nearly the attention Buffett has received for his renunciation of low capital gains taxes.

Advocates of higher taxes on the wealthy do not want to “punish” the successful. Buffett and Doug Edwards, a millionaire who asked Obama at a recent town hall event in California to raise his taxes, are saying that none of us succeeds solely because of personal effort. We are all lucky to have been born in — or, for immigrants, been admitted to — a country where the rule of law is strong, where property is safe, where a vast infrastructure has been built over generations, where our colleges and universities are the envy of the world, and where government protects our liberties.

Wealthy people, by definition, have done better out of this system than other people have. They ought to be willing to join Buffett and Edwards in arguing that for this reason alone, it is common sense, not class jealousy, to ask the most fortunate to pay taxes at higher tax rates than other people do. It is for this heresy that Buffett is being harassed.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne(at)

(c) 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

  • Thomas McMahon

    The rich hold their distain for Warren Buffett because he tells the truth. He knows who can afford what if they live a certain lifestyle, he is not a man consumed by conspicious consumption, Warren Buffet drives a plain car, lives in a humble home despite being one of the richest men in the U.S. & World. Warren Buffet knows the rich can afford to pay more and that they enjoy a very low tax burden in relation to the money they make from all venues and compared to other nations. You see he knows it’s not about me, but about all of us as in us, U.S. Warren Buffet is also aware that a country can only be as great as it’s population is educated and it’s infrastructure built, maintained & upgraded to support commerce. He knows the United States is failing on both counts.
    Thomas McMahon
    Millis Ma

  • StanleyEBalgobin

    When we speak of Freedom we mean freedom to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The social contract on which a civil society guarantees these unalienable rights is based on the well being of WE the people. Since WWII we have witnessed an unparalleled upsurge in the standard of living of Americans. Because unbounded Capitalism outpaced humanitarian measures, we have also witnessed a growing disparity between the haves and the have nots. Our society has increasingly become ruled by the powerful moneyed interests albeit Corporations. This is so much the case that Democracy ie Government OF BY & FOR the people practically no longer exists. It is therefore a NO BRAINER that the super wealthy pay more taxes. Unless we as a single species on this planet can become to realize our common connectivity and live in unity the present human condition is simply unsustainable. Unless we can heed the very words of the Master and love our neighbors as ourselves, then we cannot in truth be called a Christian nation.

  • jpoptrix

    I’m reminded af an old fable here,

    Mr. Snake approaches Mr. Turtle on a river bank and asks Mr. Turtle for a ride across the water since he can’t swim the river himself. Mr. Turtle politely refuses to oblige, reasoning that if he were to give Mr. Snake a ride across the river, he would surely be bitten. Mr. Snake protests saying that it would be foolish for him to bite the one carrying him, since it would result in him perishing also. Mr. Turtle considers the argument, then agrees to ferry Mr. Snake over the broad river. When they are half-way across the river Mr. Turtle feels a sharp pain and realizes he has been bitten by Mr. Snake. As the venom is beginning to take effect, Mr. Turtle sadly and resolutely asks Mr. Snake why he bit him, since the biting will also result in Mr. Snake’s demise. A wry smile came upon Mr. Snake’s face. “I bit you because I am a snake Mr. Turtle; that is my nature.”

  • jarhead gene

    Sad to say, I was flipping through radio stations in the car the other day and, I heard one of those MORONIC pundits spouting off against Warren Buffet regarding all of this, calling him names and claiming he is “ready for the glue factory”. In the same breath they were talking up the upcoming interviews with Dick Cheney. When a caller asked if they were going to ask Dick Cheney some hard line questions regarding his FLEECING of America’s wealth via KBR and Halliburton, the host quickly cut them off and then went off on a tangent regarding the great service Dick Cheney has done for his country and that his(Bush)administration is history and not in question anymore. I was saddened…Dick Cheney a great American, hah…
    I guess that makes those of us who have served BAD, for not seeking 5 draft differments, or for positioning ourselves with NO BID, unending gov’t contracts, that pay in the billions, to our own self-serving companies. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O….all of you, WORTHLESS! And yet, people still listen to you as if you are men of HONOR. Where is the honor in your ELITEism?

  • Tom Camfield

    I seem to recall that during the G. Bush (oh, how I wish his middle initial had been D.), I recall a successful push to reduce the capital gains tax. This passed over the heads of most citizens struggling along as the lower classes do. Most had no speaking acquaintance with capital gains and remained oblivious. And the gluttonous wealthy continue to argue or elimination of what’s left of this particular tax.

    What it means at present is that inactive money–which does not go into our economy via spending to multiply many times over–is just re-invested to acquire more inactive money, often in businesses that have moved much of their operations overseas to avoid paying American workers a decent wage. It definitely is income, but is taxed at only 15%, if I am not mistaken. That is less than the average still-working middle-class families pay. Throw in subsidies, loopholes and exemptions enjoyed basically by the wealthy–and it should make you vomit whenever you think of struggling slum-dwellers, the unemployed, children in rags with empty bellies. That’s how revolutions are born, but we just can’t seem to get one up and running in these sophisticated times of non-violence.

    Please don’t miss the next opportunity to vote.

  • Donnie

    Everybody with a working brain knows that the tax rate is unfair, we must do something before the carpet baggers beat us down to the way it was in the late 1800’s & early 1900’s

  • aconnelly

    I agree the total tax code needs revision to guarantee all Americans are taxed at the same rate an that requires a system that is simple so each individual can file without having to schedule for tax savings that are confusing and provide significant loop holes for the wealthier tax payer, but I fear neither party will support a system that basically eliminates the IRS and probably has huge negative impact on Accountants, Lawyers, and Tax Preparers incomes and profits. The negative impact on PAC money and the risk at the poles seems to preclude any logical change in the system.

    I disagree that the capital gains tax is the problem or the answer as retirees who have no pension, which is becoming the majority, rely heavily on the profits in their IRA, 401K, and investments. This is not the place to make up for the tax issue. I am also against the reduction in FICA and believe the level of taxation on salaries should be increased to $150,000 as these funds affect Social Security which is already in trouble. Al

  • michigancompassionclub

    Lets face the fact that a uprising akin to the ‘Arib Spring” in this unmotivated country has about as much chance of sucess as a snowball in hell or Cheney in front of a war crimes tribunel. Hell the vast majority of Americans do NOT even vote in the Presidental elections. How pitifull is that?? And the youth, as a whole, may even be worse! Maby they smoke too much ‘wackt tabackie'” Can’t be that, back in ‘the day’ (late 60’s on) many forward thinking protesters smoked a bunch and still made it the the anti-war rallies…The republic is safe!!

  • standan

    For more than a month I have been sitting around worrying that the only people who understand or care that the Republican party is for only those in that top 20% of households who earn 80% of the national income and more than 80% of the nationa wealth are myself, my wife and Paul Krugman. After reading the posts on the Warren Buffet tax story on the Memo, I am relieved that there are at least 11 of us.