News & Politics

Raise Your Own Damn Taxes!

It happened again.

Bill Gates, sometimes the richest man in the world, has announced that he thinks he should pay more taxes.

Of course, what he really means is he thinks other people should pay more taxes. And why not? Hell, he’s not the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos has taken that spot. Bill’s buddy Warren Buffet is what, number 5 or something?

If his taxes are raised, it’s not going to cost him any sleep, or much of anything else in his life. He won’t be risking a meal or need to move out of the giant house with the waterskiing lake. There’s a point at which you’re so rich that nothing but a revolution or an atomic war will discommode you in any way.

The thing is, he’s not saying his taxes should go up. He’s saying that other people’s taxes should go up. Maybe not the middle class — although it’s gotten awfully hard to tell who’s middle class any more, when a three-bedroom ranch house in Palo Alto can be had for a mere couple million dollars, if it’s a fixer upper — but certainly not just the top 100 richest people in the world.

We know this, because if he really wanted to see his own taxes go up, he could do it easily. The IRS doesn’t force you to take deductions. Let’s just think of some ways he could raise his own taxes:

He could not take a deduction for the money he and Melinda put into their eponymous foundation. In fact, he could fire his accountants and file his taxes himself, paying the regular max rate and counting his capital gains as straight income. (That’s one of his suggestions, raise the capital gains tax. Now, there are a number of economic reasons why we wouldn’t want to increase the capital gains tax, and you’d probably be surprised to find out how many of those “progressive” countries in Europe don’t tax capital gains at all, but never mind. We’re talking about the U.S. and about Bill Gates’ taxes.)

Now, he might not be able to fire his accountants right away, because first of all they’d have to unwind all the things they’ve done to minimize his tax burden in the past. But I’m sure they would manage in a year or two if they were motivated.

Warren Buffett has historically been in favor of keeping or increasing the estate tax, what we ignorant proles keep calling the “death tax.” Of course, Buffett has his own foundations, which are a wonderful way to shelter assets from the death tax. And then, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway owns a lot of insurance businesses. One of the best ways for someone who’s merely wealthy to shelter their wealth from the death tax is through insurance. You see, insurance distributions aren’t taxable. Money you put into insurance premiums comes back to your family tax-free.

As long as you have lots of cash, at least. Family farms and ranches tend to have their major assets tied up in land, and often aren’t particularly cash rich. With no cash to buy multimillion-dollar insurance policies, they often have to liquidate to pay the death tax.

It’s okay with Buffett: you can pay him now — and don’t forget that he gets to invest that money to his own benefit while you’re still alive. It’s called the “float.” Or you can sell your farm when Dad or Granddad die. No skin off his nose.

The easiest way to pay more taxes, of course, is just to send in the money. You can write a check and send it to:

IRS address

Or if you’re more worried about the debt, you can send the check to the U.S. Treasury:

Gifts to the Treasury

So I’ve got a proposal. Whenever someone says they want their own taxes to be raised, give them a stamped, addressed envelope and say, “Put your check in here. We’ll even mail it for you.”

Or we just tell them, “Raise your OWN damn taxes!”