Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Warren Buffett's Tax Math Fuzzy at Best

Time to take "The Oracle" to task.

CNBC has an interview today in which Buffett describes the taxes on his office. He pays 17.5% tax "on average" on his income and that the rest of his office pays 32%. This is the "unfairness" in the tax system he alludes to.

Here is the flaw, the higher taxes those people pay? It is social security taxes, a "tax" for a program those people will need far more than Buffett ever will. After $85,000 in income you no longer need to pay the 7% tax on your income. Buffett takes a $100,000 income from Berkshire plus the thousands he makes from board seats and dividends in stocks he owns privately. It also does not take into account any tax free income Buffett may receive from Federal or Municipal bonds he owns which would dramatically lower his "percentage".

Now, Buffett has said 90% of his net worth is in Berkshire stock which means he has some $5 billion in other investments which could generate $10 million in income taxable at 15% if invested in dividend paying stocks that have an average 2% yield.

I do not know what the secretary in the office makes but lets say she is paid a fortune in Omaha, $85,000. Her "average" tax will average the 32%. Now Warren, will pay the same percentage of his first $85,000 and then pay only 25% on the next $15,000 since no SS tax is paid. Now, if we add the dividend stocks scenario, we lower his "average" tax rate to 15.5%.

I have no idea what Warren has the $5 billion invested in but the exercise is meant to show not that the "income" tax rates are "unfair" or tilted to the rich (although they all should be lowered) but that Warren's wealth allows him to invest vast sums in investments that lower his "average" rate easily. It is important to note that these investments are perfectly legal and available to all people and everyone can lower their average rate by using them.

The bottom line is that the only way for Warren's argument to have any real legitimacy is for him to detail his income sources. Without the details, the whole argument has no merit.

Another note: The last time congress tried to "sock it to" the fat cats, we got the AMT which is systematically now killing the middle class.. be careful what you wish for...

Just lower all the rates and we all win...

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