Sunday, November 18, 2007

Reign over me

"The resources of society I don't think should pass along in terms of an aristocratic dynasty of wealth. I believe in keeping equality of opportunity as much as you can in this country."

Those were the words of renowned investment guru Warren Buffet when he spoke to the Senate Finance Committee recently. He was there to lobby the U.S. Congress to keep the Inheritance Tax which was set to expire in 2010 (it would actually only expire for that year and would return in 2011). It's somewhat sad that such leftist shibboleths are spoken by a man who seems to have the Midas Touch when it comes to investing.

Let's start from the beginning. "The resources of society..." No Mr. Buffet they are not society's resources they are yours. You created them with your hard work - they would not have existed otherwise. Why does "society" have a claim on them? Okay, maybe you can make the claim that if it wasn't for "society" you wouldn't have had the ability to acquire such wealth. But the reverse case could also be made: other members of society wouldn't be as rich or even have jobs if it weren't for men like you.

"... I don't think should pass along in terms of an aristocratic dynasty of wealth." I applaud the healthy suspicion of aristocracy, but let's not forget the other American tradition: respect for property rights. I would also argue that a "dynasty of wealth" is somewhat innocuous unless that wealth is allowed to wield the power of government. We can blame the owners of such wealth for influencing government power, but the onus must fall upon elected officials who allow themselves to be bought.

A note on terminology: Aristocratic dynasties are primarily governing institutions. If we really wanted to stop true "aristocratic dynasties" shouldn't we amend the constitution to prevent family members of former elected officials from running for office? (It is possible that by 2017 the U.S. Presidency would have been in the control of two families for almost 30 years. There is also a growing trend where children are replacing their parents in Congress.)

"I believe in keeping equality of opportunity as much as you can is this country." How is it that opportunity is taken away from anyone if you, Mr. Buffet, are able to leave your wealth to your heirs? I would argue that your wealth has created opportunity for countless numbers of people - whether it be with jobs that were created or investments that increased in value. Do you trust the political process with such wealth more than your heirs? You may want to think that your taxed wealth will go to better someone's life, but it could just as easily be said that that money will go to support more corruption and war. I would hope that you would look to clean up government before giving it more wealth to destroy.

Here's an idea: Why not continue your philanthropic ways by willing your estate to a cause (or causes) that would provide opportunity directly to individuals? Why should that wealth have to be pass through the unproductive sieve of a political bureaucracy?

Unfortunately, Mr. Buffet is part of a sad tradition of wealthy people who want to fund and lobby for the destruction of the very engine that made them wealthy. Maybe this book by Garet Garrett would be a valuable read.

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