Warren Buffett and O.J. Simpson Have Something in Common

Warren Buffett has made his view that the rich should pay more in taxes well-known.  But Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is currently disputing more than $1 billion in taxes with the IRS.  Two stories on the issue can be found here and here.  You’d think that someone who says other rich people should pay more would just pay the taxes the IRS says his company owes, rather than fight the claim.

Some will defend Buffett by saying that Buffett wants the tax laws changed so he and other super-rich people will be obligated to pay more; meanwhile, his obligation to his stockholders is to minimize the company’s tax liability for their benefit.  I’ll accept that argument, but in this case it appears the IRS has already told him that under current tax law he owes more than $1 billion.  If he really thinks the rich should pay more, he should pay what the IRS claims he owes under current tax law.

We know the rich have high-priced legal experts at their service that ordinary people don’t, and that high-priced legal experts are often no match for low-paid government attorneys.  O.J. Simpson proved that.  But when you’re arguing the rich should pay more, and the government says you owe more, if you really believe in the policy you are advocating, you should pay what your government says you owe rather than relying on your high-priced legal experts to fight your government.

Both the articles I linked to above called Buffett a hypocrite.  With these facts, it’s an easy argument to make.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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