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When Buffett Sounded Like the Kochs

4:24 PM, Aug 25, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Warren Buffett wrote an op-ed last week making his case for higher taxes on the rich, like himself, who he said shouldn't pay at lower marginal rates than their underlings—and indeed Buffett paid a relatively paltry $6.9 million in taxes last year. It's possible (actually, it's certain) that Buffett would have paid more were it not for all his philanthropy—billions of dollars put into foundations that help starving kids in Africa and such and which also serve as tax shelters, allowing the rich to spend their money on social welfare as they see fit, rather than forcing them to turn their money over to government bureaucrats to do the same job with less efficiency and perhaps in the support of some cause a hypothetical billionaire tax avoider does not support.

When asked if he agreed with Buffett's call for higher taxes, fellow billionaire Charles Koch objected on just such grounds:

Much of what the government spends money on does more harm than good; this is particularly true over the past several years with the massive uncontrolled increase in government spending. I believe my business and non-profit investments are much more beneficial to societal well-being than sending more money to Washington. 

Funny enough, the Washington Examiner's Conn Carroll finds Buffett making a very similar argument a couple years ago, when the country had a different president, a president with whom Buffett maybe didn't see quite eye to eye, and whose water he wasn't determined to carry. In a 2007 interview with CNBC: 

Becky: "OK, there were a couple of emails that came in that people that said if you think the government should be able to tax more money, why don't you just give your money away to the government instead of charity."

Buffett: "Well, that's a choice and it's an option that... If I had to give it to a single individual, or make some young Buffett a multi-billionaire, or give it to the government, I'd absolutely give it to the government. I think that on balance the Gates Foundation, my daughter's foundation, my two sons' foundations, will do a better job with lower administrative costs and better selection of beneficiaries than the government."

Buffett gets to have his cake and eat it too—complaining he isn't taxed enough, but avoiding taxes through philanthropic and business investments that allow him, rather than the government, to decide how best to advance the general good and his own interests. It may be that the only difference between Buffett and Charles Koch is that Koch doesn't spend so much time sucking up to the media. 

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