Why Are We Bashing Buffett?

What is altruism? Warren Buffett recently proposed a surtax on the very wealthiest Americans, including himself to help reduce the federal deficit.  (This is a mild version of Obama’s perfectly reasonable proposal to tax family incomes above $250,000, i.e., fewer than 2% of families.) Buffett is being altruistic—the tax will reduce his net income. I always thought altruism was desirable, yet I’ve seen Buffett lampooned in the press.

I suppose one can argue that he’s really doing this to preserve the value of Berkshire Hathaway stock.  (The same argument might apply when I donate blood—perhaps I do it because it makes me feel good, not to help others.) But: it’s a pretty sorry state of the world when someone offers to reduce his circumstances in order to help his country and is mocked.


A large and complicated topic which I would boil down by saying:
a) WB's mid 80s and already got his taken care off a few billion times over
b) he proposes taxing income, not wealth - where was he the past 50 years while earning?
c) taxing the richest 500 Americans sounds good but won't move the meter on our real problem (spending 40% too much)
d) find me lots of people making $200k-$500k who tell you they want to pay more. You won't because those are the upward "aspiring" rich who aren't set for life yet - but hope to be one day.
e) this is a clear cut case of limo-liberal attitude - I won the lottery and feel badly that so many others don't have it so easy. See Hollywood Actors for more details.


Well-said, mon ami!!


Family incomes above $250,000 are already being taxed. Don't you mean raising the tax rate? And why is it perfectly reasonable? I am not going to get into the issue of who actually pays the income tax, as that has been adequately documented elsewhere. Also, Warren is not offering to reduce just his circumstances, but is offering to reduce other's as well. How nice of Warren to offer to reduce the disposable income of others. As others have commented, if he wants to pay more in taxes, nothing is stopping him from sending the IRS a check. I don't agree that it is a pretty sorry state of the world when people do not appreciate Warren deciding that they should have more of the income seized by the government. Would this "help his country"? Not if, as I believe, the problem is a spending one and not a revenue one.

Dave Roland

I don't know about others, but I question Mr. Buffett's sincerity. After all, if he (or any other extraordinarily wealthy person) truly believes that putting more of their money in the government's hands will help solve the nation's problems, they have always been free to write as large a check as they'd like. That they have not chosen to do so speaks volumes about their "altruism."


That they have not chosen to do so speaks volumes about their “altruism.”

You do know that Buffett has committed to giving away the vast majority of his wealth right? To question his "altruism" because he didn't write a check to the government is just stupid.

One person voluntarily writing a check to the gov't is not the same as having a whole class of people write a check to the gov't. He is looking for a greater impact.


Daniel, Mr. Buffett is free to 'give' more of his money to the government now. Nothing is stopping him from doing it on his own yet he has not done so, which brings into question any altruistic motivation on his part. Why hasn't he just set the example and written the check?

I believe it is because this is a purely political move. It isn't about raising taxes on a few rich people who won't notice the difference, it's about changing the argument to how much we should raise taxes- period. On everyone.

We don't have to few taxes we have too much spending. By constantly focusing the argument on unsympathetic people likely the extremely wealthy the real issue and real solutions do not get discussed.

Joshua Northey

We have too much spending and too few taxes. Taxes are at an all time low, and the services we demand from government are at an all time high. That doesn't seem incongruous to you?


Perhaps it would rock the national psyche too much to believe that the very wealthy are not the enemy. People want to find someone to blame for their problems, and politicians and the news media are willing to quickly name anyone but themselves.


Altruism is desirable, but how is Buffett being altruistic? He has done nothing except pen an editorial. Furthermore, why is giving money to the government altruistic? Buffett keeping the money and investing it would do a lot more good then handing it over to a bunch of politicians to spend on their own various pet projects.


2 points -

1) You betray your bias when you use the opinion-laden phrase "perfectly reasonable". You should have just said "....Obama's proposal to tax...." and dropped the phrase altogether.

2) I believe the main point people are making with respect to Buffet is that if he truly believes he is paying too little in taxes, then there are two questions - a) Why doesn't he just write a bigger check and voluntarily pay more, and b) Why does he still aggressively try to reduce his own taxes by reporting his income as capital gains rather than regular income?

Clifton Griffin

I left that phrase alone in my response, but you are absolutely right.

Hamermesh hardly positioned himself as an unbiased moderator in this discussion.


Although we have a tax code that requires you to pay a certain amount of taxes, no one is stopping you from paying more taxes on your own. You can easily file a return and leave out deductions, thus increasing the taxes you pay. Saying I am willing to pay more taxes only if everyone pays them as well, is not altruistic at all.

Having said that, the tax code as currently structured is vastly unfair, however it is mostly due to the regressive nature of local and state taxes, not federal taxes (although there is room for improvement here). http://www.itepnet.org/whopays3.pdf

I applaud Mr. Buffet for speaking out, however he makes billions in his sleep. (Didn't he just invest Billions in BOA because the stock price was so low, and just because he bought the stock the price increased significantly!). I am thankful that he is as giving as he is, and everything i read about makes me admire him more, but lets not make him a saint just yet, and no one should be immune from criticism.


Clifton Griffin

While I have great respect for Buffet's personal generosity and business accumen, his involvement in politics in the last few years is a bit uncomfortable.

I think it's the implicit assumption that because he's super rich and super successful we should listen to all of his ideas, political, economic, humanitarian, et al.

As a free market, laissez-faire Capitalist, his mixture of the three doesn't sit right. I get the distinct impression that, having made his billions, he's not completely realistic in his assessment of the economic plight of those standing on the other side of the wall. Who haven't been wildly successful.

Personal altruism is a fantastic and admirable. But mixing that with the politics of progressive taxation and wealth transfer through the tax code? It conjures up visions of Woodrow Wilson's brand of pseudo-religious, socialist leaning ideals. Which is to say, I get freaked out.

Just my two cents.



I think Warren Buffett is being bashed by people who think the Federal Government has a spending problem rather than a revenue problem. Why focus on the wrong problem?

The other aspect of the revenue problem is what is fair. There's (very little or) no discussion of what the proper tax rates should be - everyone states as facts that the tax rates are for rich people are too low.


I think Mr. Hamermesh should donate a million dollars to charity this year. Does that make me altruistic too?

No? Maybe that's because it isn't considered charity when you do it with other peoples money using the police powers of the Government. The 2% argument is specious. Fair treatment by the tax code isn't limited to the majority.

As for the whole donating blood thing. That's fine if you want to do that, but to argue that everyone should be required to donate blood or be fined by the Government is more analogous to what Buffet is suggesting. Of course, it would be less offensive if you only forced Native Americans to donate blood since there are so few of them out there and they are not you.


It is important to note that there is a significant segment of the American media who loves to bash anyone if it gets them viewers/readers.

There are some legitimate reasons to criticize Mr. Buffett, however. Firstly, taxing those whose family incomes are above $250,000 more will do little to fill the massive budget deficit we have. Mr. Buffett is proposing putting a Band-Aid on a grievous wound - its effects will be nearly entirely symbolic. Secondly, a very large percentage of business activity and employment in the United States is with firms that could be categorized as small and medium-sized companies. Most of these firms are not incorporated, but instead are closely held, which in most cases means that they are reported on the owner's personal income tax statement. Raising taxes in the way Mr. Buffett proposes will have a chilling effect on business expansion and new hires right at the time the economy needs these jobs and this investment the most. Thirdly, Mr. Buffett seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth. He complains that he does not pay enough in personal taxes, but he chooses to donate his personal wealth to the Gates Foundation rather than the US government - money that he contends that he should have paid at least a portion of in taxes. I've seen Mr. Buffett in person, and he is intelligent, quick-witted and charming, but I cannot ignore his long-standing hypocrisy. Not to channel Ronald Reagan too much, but we are not in trouble because our government taxes too little, we are in trouble because our government spends too much.

That said, I applaud Mr. Buffet for his decision to donate much of his wealth, and I think he has made an excellent choice of a recipient in the Gates Foundation. His wealth will do a great deal of good. But what I think Mr. Buffett and many others discount is that his personal wealth has already done a great deal of good. Mr. Buffett has been doing the job of Adam Smith's Invisible Hand for the duration of his storied career. His investments have saved and grown companies which have put hundreds to work, created new and innovative goods and services that have benefited humankind and have helped pay for hundreds of thousands of retirements of those who directly or indirectly invested in Berkshire Hathaway. We value the money that he is giving through the Gates Foundation that will help to cure malaria in Africa, develop cures for AIDS, and improve education, and well we should. But in the end it might turn out that the greatest good he accomplished was in serving the interests of himself and the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway.


Ron Rimkus

Buffett is being lambasted appropriately for several reasons. For starters, we citizens reject the premise that current taxation is inadequate. Obama has increased government spending by 30% per year. Why should taxes be raised and spending not be lowered? Second, raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires is very different from raising taxes those making more than $250k. Even if marginal tax rates went up to 90%, Buffett would still be a billionaire. America is about enabling people to work hard and save for themselves - giving everyone a chance to become wealthy/successful. Once again, you adhere to the false premise that the fruits of our labor should go to other people simply because you say so. And if Buffett wants his taxes raised, tell him to write an extra check come April, but he should not volunteer anyone else to pay more. That's un-American. Which brings me to my last point, government by its very essence confiscates (via taxation). Who has the right to say in any given situation how money should be spent? Other than people that own the money? Taxation is involuntary and as such those who already have wealth will see to it that they preserve any and all possible tax loopholes. For instance, Mr. Buffett has long ago figured out how to gain a superior tax structure for his business/wealth by paying himself very little and keeping his wealth locked-up inside Berkshire. When income tax rates go up, it will hit the savers hard - people who make in excess of $250k - but not the people who are truly wealthy. (For more discussion on income fallacies, see Thomas Sowell). Your article reveals how little you understand the reality of both Mr. Buffett's situation as well as that of the average American. If you really believe in a particular social service, right your own check and lobby not Congress, but your fellow citizens to donate to a cause you believe is worthy. If it truly has merit, then your cause will find donors - America has many generous and giving citizens - another thing that tax & spend blow-hards like you seem to overlook.



I think the reasons people are skeptical are many-fold. (Disclaimer: I've been a huge Buffett fan in the past.)

Firstly, Buffett's (legal) tax avoidance across the years is legendary. He has a reasonable claim to be the number one tax expert in the country. He had no difficulty growing his gains tax-free inside investment vehicles and through unrealized gains when personal income tax rates on the wealthy were much higher. Indeed, Buffett owes an enormous share of his wealth to successful tax avoidance over many years. This continues to this day. Even as his wealth grows by the billions, his 'realized income' remains just a few percent of this.

Secondly, everyone who has ever done their own taxes knows there is a box to use to send in more money to the IRS if you want but Warren Buffett has declined to do this for many years.

Finally, there is an element of self-interest, too. The one kind of insidious tax that Buffett cannot personally avoid is inflation which would eat away at the real value of his assets. If no solution is reached, this is how the budget would find 'balance.' If instead, a tax solution is reached, the inflation outcome that Buffett so dislikes would be avoided.

In Buffett's defense, he is an amazingly charitable guy and has been very generous with knowledge if not tax payments over the years.



Let me preface this with "I am a fan of Mr. Buffett". That being said I had the opportunity to ask him a question when he made a surprise visit to my Alma Mater Weber State University, during the Bush/Clinton campaign season. I asked him something about presidential politics and its relation to the economy. He replied the more money he made the less he worried about politics. This was an interesting observation from a multi-billionaire since I had recently heard the opposite from a multi-millionaire. Seems time and age have redirected some of his concerns.


Now that Buffett has invested in BofA, is he going to refuse a bailout if it is needed to protect his investment? I think we all know the answer to that one. He is being hypocritical.