Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Buffett: don't repeal estate tax

Warren Buffett, that enlightened king of billionaire investors, has voiced his approval for the estate tax (or "death tax" as it's commonly known) and is calling on Congress to maintain the tax, claiming its repeal would be wrong.

From, "Buffett says Estate-Tax Repeal Would Benefit Richest".

Warren Buffett called on Congress to maintain the estate tax, saying that plans to repeal the levy would benefit a handful of the richest American families and widen U.S. income disparity.

Buffett, the billionaire chairman of Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc., told the Senate Finance Committee that advocates of repeal were ``dead wrong'' to call the levy a ``death tax.''

It would be more appropriate to call it a ``death present,'' said Buffett, 77, who is the third-richest person in the world, according to Forbes Magazine. ``A meaningful estate tax is needed to prevent our democracy from becoming a dynastic plutocracy.''

And now, a personal take. I've grown increasingly tired of Buffett's fashionably "democratic", read leftist, approach on political and economic issues.

Buffett is one of the greatest investors the world has ever known, and we all admire him for that, but his apparent need to reconcile his wealth against the needs and wants of society has become tiresome. When I hear him talk about "claim checks" on society and rationalizations for why he bought his company jet, I just want to tell him to stop talking already.

Now that Buffett is advocating the continuation of an estate tax in order to level out what he perceives to be unfair advantages benefiting the inheritors of wealth, it's clear to see that what Buffett really wants is a government that will stamp out inequality and preserve our "democracy" via direct taxation and redistribution of wealth and resources.

``A meaningful estate tax is needed to prevent our democracy from becoming a dynastic plutocracy.'' Heirs to vast fortunes, he said, have already won the ``ovarian lottery'' and shouldn't be further rewarded by the tax system.

From what I've been able to piece together (outside of my wretched public schooling), it seems that America was founded as a republic, one that respected and acknowledged the individual's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Our Founding Fathers risked their lives in order to throw off tyranny and excess taxation, and to build our country on this footing. While many of them loathed the idea of an entrenched aristocracy as existed in Europe, they were also fearful of the realities of what we reverently refer to as "democracy". The founders rightly regarded democracy as a decayed form of mob rule, in which each group fights the other to secure plundered wealth and resources, and the majority imposes its will on the minority.

Now we've reached the stage where even our greatest and most influential capitalists are publicly committed to the idea of wealth redistribution via government confiscation, out of control governement spending, and ever-expanding social welfare programs. It really makes you wonder.

It's interesting, because I just started rereading an excellent book entitled, Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist.

I must have read this book five times already, but I like to pick it up every now and then and read certain sections over again. Every time I do, I find myself more interested in the passages on Buffett's father, Howard Buffett, a conservative Omaha businessman who was later elected to represent his home district in the US House of Representatives.

Howard Buffett is described as an isolationist, a New Deal hater, and many other things that would seem unfashionable today. But he was also described as "unshakably ethical", and he left all the Buffett children with an understanding of the woes of big government and inflation.

So while it's no big surprise to see Warren's political views veering off from those held by his father, it's interesting to see that he seems to have left his father's lessons on inflation and its ill effects behind.

Buffett said that in the last 20 years, tax laws have allowed the ``super-rich'' to get richer.

``Tax-law changes have benefited this group, including me, in a huge way,'' he said. ``During that time the average American went exactly nowhere on the economic scale: He's been on a treadmill while the super rich have been on a spaceship.''

Warren blames tax laws for the average American's declining standard of living. While this is a popular theme to invoke, it really overlooks the major causes of stagnant and declining real incomes and standard of living: excessive taxation, spending, and inflation.

It's time we examine the wealth and savings-eroding effects of inflation and our ever increasing reliance on debt to finance our country's activities and our personal needs.

For more on this topic, please read Ron Paul's brief and informative discussion of "The Inflation Tax", as well as Hans Sennholz's essay, "The Envy Tax".