A Response to Criticism of “Warren Buffett’s Call for Higher Taxes on the Rich Doesn’t Fit the Facts” and “Warren Buffett’s Proposed Tax Hikes Would Provide Insignificant Revenue”
August 25, 2011
After posting two articles critical of Warren Buffett’s tax increase proposals last week (“Warren Buffett’s Call for Higher Taxes on the Rich Doesn’t Fit the Facts” and “Warren Buffett’s Proposed Tax Hikes Would Provide Insignificant Revenue“), I received much criticism, which is not surprising, given the polarizing nature of this tax debate. The most public of these criticisms was a recent New York Times blog post by Bruce Bartlett (to which my colleague Will McBride responded). Though I answered as many individual emails as I could, I have also listed, below, my responses to the critics’ most frequent claims:
My arguments are not against the poor.
While I am arguing for the wealthy in the aforementioned articles—that is, for a less progressive tax code than Buffett would like—these arguments are not directed against the poor. In the first article I actually concede the possibility that rich Americans may not be paying their fair share, since “fair” is subjective. Those who claim I am “anti-poor” often cite this line from my first piece: “Before we ask the rich to pay more, perhaps we should ask those who are paying nothing to contribute at least something to the basic cost of government.” I don’t think it is unfair to ask someone paying zero income taxes to pay some minimum amount—something like 0.5% of income ($50 annually for someone making $10,000).
I do not think Warren Buffett is stupid.
In fact, the appendix he wrote in one addition of The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham is the best investment commentary I have ever read. Warren Buffett has proven to be a brilliant investor and savvy businessman. As Paul Krugman pointed out on his New York Times blog, however, this in no way means he understands macroeconomics and economic policy. (The reverse could also be said of economists.)
My articles were not “red herrings.”
By definition, the idiom “red herring” is something meant to take attention away from a larger issue. My intent has explicitly been to draw attention to problems with Buffett’s logic in and information conspicuously left out of his op-ed. Judging from the number of sites that pop up if one Googles both my name and Warren Buffett’s (over 5,000 at last count), I would say I succeeded in doing just that.
The deficit reduction percentages in my second article are insignificant, in my opinion.
This is likely the most subjective of any criticism I have received. I based my interpretation on what I assumed would be recognized as the absolute political infeasibility of the tax rates I used. I didn’t even mention the certain resulting flight of the wealthy at a time when, by Buffett’s logic, we need more rich taxpayers, not fewer.
The reason I mention the deficit more than the debt is not because the numbers on the deficit are smaller.
It is true that I mention the deficit more than the debt in the second article. The word “deficit” appears seven times while “debt” appears five. The difference is so small that I don’t think it’s necessary to explain that no secret motivation affected the frequency of “deficit.”
I do not have a political agenda when I write about economics.
Like any other person, I have political views. Letting my political views intervene in my writings, however, would be unquestionably unethical. I worked for a summer at the Brookings Institution for the Tax Policy Center, which many have cited as being to the left of our organization. If I had a political agenda, that experience would not have been an extremely rewarding one, which it was. Again, I just deal with numbers.
To those who voiced other concerns, I apologize for not addressing them here. I hope that I answered yours by email. And I will say the same thing here that I have said in my response emails: I am always happy to receive feedback on my work, whether positive, negative, or simply inquisitive.
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