Warren Buffett – Warren Buffett: Vista: Warren Buffett and the myth of the ‘good billionaire’
It’s easy for people to think: if members of the Sackler family were more like Mr. Buffett, imagine how many lives would have been saved. If only the billionaires who have not signed the Giving Pledge gave away as much as Mr. Buffett has pledged, imagine the impact on the world. If only more billionaires made use of the system without feeling the need to pervert it, many of our problems would disappear.
So I’m sorry to inform you that Mr. Buffett is actually the most dangerous type of billionaire we have. The worst billionaires are the good billionaires. The ones that make it appear that the problem is the distortion of the system when, in fact, the problem is the system.
In reality, malevolent and disastrously negligent plutocrats get most of the attention. And when we learn of these exploits of Bad Billionaire, it is possible to conclude from them that the system needs better surveillance, updated regulations, and perhaps slightly higher taxes. It is necessary to get the system working again.
But as the United States leans toward plutocracy, our problem is not the level of virtue of billionaires. It is a set of social arrangements that make it possible for anyone to obtain, protect and conserve so much wealth, even when millions of people lack food, work, housing, health, connectivity, education, dignity and the opportunity to pursue their happiness.
There is no way to be a billionaire in America without taking advantage of a system based on cruelty, a system whose tax code, labor laws, and regulatory apparatus prioritize your needs above those of most people. Even the well-known good billionaire Buffett has profited from Coca-Cola’s sugary drinks, Amazon’s union breakdown, Chevron’s oil drilling, predatory loans from Clayton Homes, and, as the country recently learned, the lack of billionaires tax on their wealth.
The myth of the good billionaire took a serious blow in recent days when Buffett earned a dubious distinction. An astonishing exposition published by ProPublica revealed how little the biggest plutocrats pay in taxes, despite the accumulation of wealth. And at the top of that list of plutocrats, many of them with troubled reputations, was the cleanest plutocrat and grandfather of all: Mr. Buffett.
The ProPublica story was unusual in that, for once, it was the good billionaire at the top of the naughty list. This was useful, because it served to accuse the system that makes it possible, even when it is working perfectly, in a totally legal way.
From 2014 to 2018, Buffett’s wealth soared by $ 24.3 billion, according to ProPublica. (To emphasize, this is just the amount of fortune that grew.) The amount of taxes Mr. Buffett paid during this period? $ 23.7 million. If middle-class Americans in their 40s enjoyed such a low effective tax rate, they would have paid a few dozen dollars per household during this same time period. Instead, as the ProPublica story points out, they paid around $ 62,000.
Imagine if Mr. Buffett had to pay the same fraction of his net worth growth that ordinary people pay. Taxing that money could have helped pay for bridge repairs, mammograms, and free childcare. More importantly, and this is not said enough, there is intrinsic value in reducing gigantic fortunes. The influence that plutocrats have over public life is incompatible with the democracy of one person, one vote.
The important point here is that Mr. Buffett’s tax payments detailed by ProPublica are completely legal. Although Buffett has called for a change in the tax system, as long as we have the one we have, he will continue to benefit from the insanity of taxing billionaires on their income, rather than their wealth, when their income is more or less a number than they are. can build.
I asked Mr. Buffett last week, through his longtime secretary, Debbie Bosanek, if he could think of a tax or accounting practice that he has regretted. Sure, he could have followed the letter of the law. But was there some aspect of your patriotism or humanity that left you feeling guilty for hoarding so much tax-free money when ordinary people pay so much in taxes? Although Ms Bosanek responded to an initial question, she declined to offer such examples.
In a lengthy statement last week, Buffett defended himself by pointing to his long defense of a fairer tax system, then immediately told himself undermining the very idea of taxes in the same letter. “I think the money will be of more use to society if it is spent for philanthropic purposes than if it is used to slightly reduce an ever-increasing US debt.”
In other words: I believe in higher income taxes for people like me, but I am very organized to avoid having income to report, and I don’t really believe in taxes because I think I should decide how these surplus resources are spent.
And this points to another way that the good billionaire is difficult to deal with. Criminals and scoundrels and people who manifestly seek high levels of public relations turn to philanthropy for marketing benefits. When Goldman Sachs announces a new initiative to combat the racial wealth gap despite having done little to repair the damage it did to black homeowners by contributing to the 2008 financial meltdown, some may be misled, but increasingly many they are not.
Good billionaires like Mr. Buffett and his friend Bill Gates are supposed to be trickier because they give real money. They can benefit from marketing, but it seems to many people that it also motivates them more than that, and they apply their intelligence to work.
However, because of this, it is often the good billionaires who end up with the most illegitimate influence over public life. No one is asking members of the Sackler family for public health advice. But Gates has become an important voice in vaccine policy despite not holding any elected office. Buffett, for his part, has shied away from those kinds of lane jumps and rich talk, but by donating his fortune to the Gates foundation, he has increased that undemocratic influence.
Buffett is almost the perfectly made billionaire for this moment when, at last, many Americans are beginning to question not only the corruption of the system, but also the question of whether or not billionaires should exist. He doesn’t make things worse. of them do. He is not in this for what they are looking for. You clearly have to worry about money, but you don’t care about money either. Even in his generosity, he has avoided imperial lordship that others cannot resist.
And this is what makes it so worrisome, because through it we are tempted to believe that a system can be defended that allows a man to accumulate more than $ 100 billion while people sleep, in hocks for him, in their mobile homes, shortening their lives with the drinks they’ve invested in, running around warehouses whose non-union status has impacted their pile of money.
Can not. And who prevents us from seeing that simple and crude truth more effectively and perniciously than the Good Billionaire?