Buffett: Taxing the Rich Not Fiscal Policy - it's Social Justice!

I'm not much of a Ben Stein fan - his politics are conservative and his allegiances are to the wealthy - but he's got a wry sense of humor that can be entertaining when it's not sanctimonious (his Expelled documentary on Intelligent Design was atrocious but I loved him on The Wonder Years).  He recently wrote an article for Fortune magazine, covering an interview with investing godfather (and social progressive) Warren Buffett.
"[The housing] recovery is still a long way off. That market got way out of equilibrium, and it's going to take a long while for it to get fixed."  [says Buffet]
. . .
What about taxes? Buffett thinks that taxes should be raised on really rich Americans -- ones making $5 million a year, say, and especially ones making $1 billion a year.

"Why would we want to do that" I ask, "if we have a fiscal policy that is explicitly about running large deficits?"

The three of us -- Buffett, my colleague Phil deMuth,and I -- talked for a long time about the size of the deficits relative to "normal peacetime" and World War II, when they were far higher than they are even now. Then Buffett sums up his feelings about it, saying his wish to raise taxes on the very rich is really about social justice more than about fiscal policy.

"I would give anyone an exemption from the higher rates if he had a son or grandson in Afghanistan," he said. "I meet a lot of people at these conferences of rich people, of billionaires," he said. "None of them have anyone in their family in combat."
 Click here for the full article.
The truth is, people like Buffett, Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates are easy tokens for guys like me: we use their wonderful example as validation that "GOOD rich people should WANT to take more responsibility for society at large."  And I think they should.  But the truth is, despite these wealthiest of the wealthy, most wealthy people in America do not care enough about the general welfare of society.  Ok, maybe a little - there's a lot of philanthropy here in the states.  But not enough to lead the wealthiest Americans (and the corporations they own and operate) to support tax policies or social agendas that might cramp their style.  Look at the current fundraising being done by the RNC and its candidates this year.  There's a reason massive corporate donations to Republicans are dwarfing contributions to Democrats.  Corporate America and its leadership continue to largely favor a laissez faire brand of capitalism that asserts the benevolence of the free market in the midst of a literal middle class extinction in-process.  We're watching it happen.

And maybe it's not all the fault of individual rich people.  Most believers in trickle-down economics genuinely believe that trickle-down economics works.  Their parents told them.  Their parents' parents told them.  Everyone around them keeps singing that tune.  But it's a fantasy.  Or an outright lie.  But sadly, it's a fantasy and a lie that even America's lower-middle class has bought into, as their Tea Party fury against taxation and corporate accountability would suggest.  Their outrage is understandable and certainly justifiable.  But they've been taught to identify the wrong enemy.  They've been fed a lie.  The lie says: the only way you can hope to live the American Dream is if you let the richest Americans get even richer by walking all over you.  Then you can eat the crumbs they leave behind, and if you get work hard and obey the rules ("even though we don't"), you might get rich like them, and do the same to your former-neighbors.  But the second part doesn't happen.  Hard work doesn't take a part time Wal Mart employee (because they're not allowed full time) from food stamps to penthouse suites.  And issues like gay marriage and American patriotism get sprinkled in to ensure they don't lean left without fear of compromising their status as Christian Americans. 

A recent NPR segment discussed America's declining class mobility.  The US, the country that was once DEFINED by the "Anyone can achieve ANYTHING" Dream-mantra is now a less economically mobile society than European countries like France and Germany.

Whew, I got long-winded and preachy there.  How unusual.  I really just meant to point out Buffett's fabulous commentary, that his "wish to raise taxes on the very rich is really about social justice more than about fiscal policy."  I like that man.


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