What Should Warren Buffett Do?

by Ramesh Ponnuru

A lot of conservatives have answered Warren Buffett’s plea for higher taxes on rich people by saying that he is free to make donations to the U.S. Treasury. Jonathan Chait responds:

Obviously this fails to grasp the fundamental collective action problem that’s the entire basis for taxation. You obviously can’t fund the government on the basis of voluntary donations. Buffett and other wealthy people who favor higher taxes on the rich don’t just believe they should pay more taxes. They believe the government needs more revenue. It’s amazing how many conservatives continue to think this just-pay-more response constitutes some kind of slam dunk rebuttal.

Nobody disputes that Buffett wants a large class of people, not just himself, to pay more taxes, both to provide revenue to the government and to remedy what he perceives as an injustice. But I don’t think that lets him off the hook. Raising taxes on all the people he wants to raise taxes on would of course raise a lot more revenue than Buffett could provide through a donation. But a donation is better than nothing! And while it would not fix every injustice Buffett perceives for him to increase Treasury’s percentage of his income, it would fix the one between him and his staff and would reduce the overall injustice in the world a little bit. If he doesn’t think these modest gains in justice and revenue are worth the costs to him, then his overall argument can’t be right either. So I think there is real force in the argument that he should put his money where his mouth is.

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