In Class Warfare, Guess Which Class Is Winning - New York Times

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By BEN STEIN
Published: November 26, 2006

NOT long ago, I had the pleasure of a lengthy meeting with one of the smartest men on the planet, Warren E. Buffett, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, in his unpretentious offices in Omaha. We talked of many things that, I hope, will inspire me for years to come. But one of the main subjects was taxes. Mr. Buffett, who probably does not feel sick when he sees his MasterCard bill in his mailbox the way I do, is at least as exercised about the tax system as I am.

Put simply, the rich pay a lot of taxes as a total percentage of taxes collected, but they don’t pay a lot of taxes as a percentage of what they can afford to pay, or as a percentage of what the government needs to close the deficit gap.

Mr. Buffett compiled a data sheet of the men and women who work in his office. He had each of them make a fraction; the numerator was how much they paid in federal income tax and in payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, and the denominator was their taxable income. The people in his office were mostly secretaries and clerks, though not all.

It turned out that Mr. Buffett, with immense income from dividends and capital gains, paid far, far less as a fraction of his income than the secretaries or the clerks or anyone else in his office. Further, in conversation it came up that Mr. Buffett doesn’t use any tax planning at all. He just pays as the Internal Revenue Code requires. “How can this be fair?” he asked of how little he pays relative to his employees. “How can this be right?”

Even though I agreed with him, I warned that whenever someone tried to raise the issue, he or she was accused of fomenting class warfare.

“There’s class warfare, all right,” Mr. Buffett said, “but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

This conversation keeps coming back to mind because, in the last couple of weeks, I have been on one television panel after another, talking about how questionable it is that the country is enjoying what economists call full employment while we are still running a federal budget deficit of roughly $434 billion for fiscal 2006 (not counting off-budget items like Social Security) and economists forecast that it will grow to $567 billion in fiscal 2010.

When I mentioned on these panels that we should consider all options for closing this gap — including raising taxes, particularly for the wealthiest people — I was met with several arguments by people who call themselves conservatives and free marketers.

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