Warren Buffet on tax: a gaping chasm between left and right
Anyone who watched the BBC’s engaging documentary about Warren Buffet on Monday night would have been struck by his refreshing views on tax. Buffet has made himself into one of the very richest men in the world by ignoring Wall Street fads and hysteria. Instead he has invested big and long in companies he understands with managers he trusts without any borrowing any money to do so. He also clearly has no time for the whining about tax we hear all too regularly from our financial classes. Buffet asserts that the rich are only rich because of the society in which they operate not because they are anything special as individuals. As he points out pithily, many of those so proud of their fortune, would never have done so well had they been born in Bangladesh. They ought to be expected, and they ought to expect it of themselves, to pay tax to help those who have not been so lucky. One should keep in mind that Buffet is currently worth around $40 billion. So he has paid a very large amount of tax over his lifetime.
Buffet seems to me to sum up very well some of the core ethical principles behind a progressive view of tax. If you are inclined to see how far the right are from Buffet’s wise (and personally modest) position, read a piece written by Jeremy Warner, the Assistant Editor of the Daily Telegraph, today. Warner feels he can reject Buffet’s line because we all know that tax money is “squandered on inappropriate causes and political aggrandisement”. Far better, apparently, to give it to charity if you share Buffet’s eccentric views on giving away your earnings. Maybe if Jeremy Warner was to take a casual look at the public finances, he’d notice that by far the biggest areas of spending are benefits, pensions, healthcare and education. I’m not at all sure how any of these areas are inappropriate or amount to aggrandisement. They seem very clearly focused on helping the less well-off admittedly in not always perfect ways but there never can be perfection in such areas.
Is it my imagination or is the right, under the influence of half-baked groups like the Taxpayers Alliance, currently plumbing new shallows?