At a time when liberal and progressive politicians with national aspirations are almost universally advocating for higher taxes on the wealthy, and in many cases formulating original plans to do so, you’d think that at least some of our nation’s billionaires would begin to read the tea leaves, understand that wealth inequality is a growing problem that can no longer be swept under the rug, and try to get out in front of their own unpopularity. And yet, it seems like Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett is one of the few who ever makes even the faintest noise about redressing the imbalance through taxation.
He was back at it on CNBC Monday, telling host Becky Quick that:
“The wealthy are definitely undertaxed relative to the general population. As we get more specialized, the rich will get richer. The question is: How do you take care of a guy who is a wonderful citizen whose father died in Normandy and just doesn’t have market skills? I think the income tax credit is the best way to address that. That probably means more taxes for guys like me, and I’m fine with it.”
On one hand, this is a form of stating the obvious, and Buffett shouldn’t necessarily get bonus points for recognizing either the fundamental economic problem of our times or the obvious solution. But when so few of his contemporaries ever even acknowledge the facts, and instead jet to Davos to make vague noises about climate change and—as the great Rutger Bregman put it—”participation and justice and equality and transparency” without ever mentioning taxes, words like Buffett’s start to seem revolutionary.
Then again, how sincere is he? It’s worth asking the question after Charlie Munger, the 95-year-old vice chairman of Buffett’s company, recently said in the wake of Amazon ditching New York City that states like California and Connecticut are “stupid” for having high tax rates that supposedly drive rich people away. Ignoring the fact that California and Connecticut are dripping with rich people, this sentiment seems to undermine Buffett’s sympathy for higher tax rates.
In any case, the most that someone like Buffett can do is drive the discourse to a degree. The real change will come through grass roots antagonism, along with politicians and voter blocs that are not themselves billionaires. Still, we can credit Buffett for at least being one of the ultra-rich Americans with his eyes open and his finger held to the wind.