It’s hard to argue with success, especially when the financially successful person is saying to the effect: “Tax me more. It won’t hurt me or the economy. It will only help us all”. Warren Buffett is a refreshing and most welcome voice, especially at a time when our country is at the edge of a fiscal cliff, where lawmakers are pondering what steps to take to guard against a financial downturn.
Buffett’s optimism on America’s future and his wit also complement his sagely investment wisdom to make his advice on taxing America’s most wealthy come off well. While there will no doubt always be critics, and not simply of the school of Grover Norquist, I am struck by Buffett the American. I am no economist, but as a theologian, I am interested in the common good which entails consideration of sound economic policies.
Mr. Buffett’s recent New York Times op-ed tells me something about Buffett the American. He is troubled by those lobbyists who are “warriors for the wealthy” and those loopholes that make it possible for the rich to avoid paying higher taxes: “Above all, we should not postpone these changes in the name of ‘reforming’ the tax code. True, changes are badly needed. We need to get rid of arrangements like ‘carried interest’ that enable income from labor to be magically converted into capital gains. And it’s sickening that a Cayman Islands mail drop can be central to tax maneuvering by wealthy individuals and corporations.” To me, Buffett sounds like a prophet, not simply like an investor trying to make a profit. And for those who are concerned that the rich won’t invest if they will be taxed more as a result, Buffett has this to say in the same op-ed, “Maybe you’ll run into someone with a terrific investment idea, who won’t go forward with it because of the tax he would owe when it succeeds. Send him my way. Let me unburden him.” Not only is Buffett a profitable investor and prophet for our current economic climate; he also comes across sounding like a sound therapist.
In Whatever Became of Sin?, psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote that the rich who came to him for treatment for maladies that were bound up with their wealth would applaud his counsel that they should give generously to charities. Still, according to Menninger, they never did it. I don’t know how much Mr. Buffett gives to charities, but his willingness to be taxed more for his great riches is, from his vantage point, a means to benefit the country as a whole, not just himself. I am sure he feels good about it. I do, too.
We need more Warren Buffetts in America today. We could all learn a thing or two from him, not simply from his business skills. His concern for the common good not only makes common sense for the economy in terms of the deficit but also it should make all of us feel good in terms of his common decency. Far beyond investing in making capital gains, Buffett is investing in making gains in character for our country concerning the tax structure. The rest of us should follow suit and invest now.