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September 20th, 2011 10:27 pm
Warren Buffett: Bad at Math?
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Warren Buffett has enjoyed a fair bit of celebrity over the last few weeks, acting as the iconic symbol of President Obama’s proposal for tax hikes by ubiquitously making it known that he hasn’t been debited enough by the feds. Buffett’s rhetorical trope of choice is to invoke the fact that he pays lower taxes than his secretary. That’s because most of Buffett’s income comes in the form of capital gains from his investment empire, which are taxed at 15 percent, not earned income like his assistant’s paycheck, which is likely taxed at a federal rate of either 25 percent or 28 percent, depending on whether her annual salary is above $83,600.

This sounds unjust at first blush — until you consider the fact that the capital gains tax is essentially double-dipping. That is, the money you have to invest is what’s left over after your earned income is taxed. In other words, the investment money on which Buffett is paying the cap gains tax was already skimmed by Washington when he earned it in the first place. If his assistant was investing, she’d be paying the same rate as Buffett. As pointed out by S.A. Miller in the New York Post:

Buffett actually was taxed twice on his investment income.

First, Buffett had to make the money he invested. Those earnings were taxed as corporate income, at about a 35-percent rate.

Then, Uncle Sam took another cut when Buffett invested the money and earned a profit. That’s when Buffett paid the 15 percent capital-gains tax rate.

All told, after combining corporate taxes and capital gains taxes, Buffett forked over about 45 percent of his earnings.

We’ll put Buffett in the same category as Albert Einstein and Noam Chomsky: experts in their field who should have never been given automatic credibility when it comes to politics.

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