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Bully for Billionaires

May 23rd, 2003

Warren Buffett gets stuck into the Republicans over the greed of the rich in pushing for tax relief while paying less (proportionally) than almost anyone else. He also makes the obvious point that its the current account deficit and not the abandonment “strong dollar policy” that will ultimately drive down the US dollar, getting backup from fellow-billionaire George Soros

And while I’m saying nice things about billionaires, this Salon story says Bill Gates is giving away the bulk of his fortune mostly to people in poor countries. (Both Buffett and Soros are also notable for philanthropy).

At the very least, the latter report makes me feel less resentful about paying my Microsoft taxes (the effectively compulsory copy of Office I need primarily for file compatibility).

Going further, it makes me think about billionaires and egalitarianism. Certainly these guys are doing a lot of good with their money. And while there are other billionaires who don’t do anything positive, taken as a group the ultra-rich seem a lot more attractive than the merely rich, as represented, say, by the Bush administration. So perhaps a bit of inequality at the very top of the income distribution (a few billion-dollar fortunes and a corresponding reduction in the number of millionaires/multimillionaires) is not such a bad idea. With this much money it is possible for someone to a lot of good unilaterally.

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  1. Chris K
    May 24th, 2003 at 06:54 | #1

    You can avoid the MS-Tax, try OpenOffice. It has excellent file compatibility to the different MS file formats. And yes, it’s very good software.

  2. Homer Paxton
    May 24th, 2003 at 14:07 | #2

    Add Carnegie to your list john.
    A fascinating character, one of the original ‘robber barons’ who actually put into practice what he believed although his children perhaps didn’t appreciate it as they might have.

  3. May 24th, 2003 at 16:08 | #3

    A cynic might say that the mega rich, such as Gates, Soros & Buffet, are less interested in competitive capitalism to encourage social mobility as they have no place to go but down.
    OTOH the current Bush admin seems to be anti-competitive market capitalism out of loyalty to insider traders and rural interest groups.
    And it’s sympathy to heritable fortunes actually encourages social immobility through social ossification, nepotism and plutocracy.
    The best explanation is that the super rich think big – like a state – and tend to have public goods minded ideas.

  4. Homer Paxton
    May 25th, 2003 at 15:01 | #4

    One thought that struck me is why do none of the major parties support an inheritance tax.

    Afterall if you are rightwing and support market forces then you want people who get the greates return on the assets owning the same assets otherwise you get a misallocation of resources. Yet this argument is ignored ( Ask john Stone and he goes apopoletic). I’ve only found small l liberals interested in this.

    Social Democrats should be interested in this because of the progressive nature of the tax and the way it assists in reducung tax avoidance.

    A mystery!
    On the Social Democratic

  5. derrida derider
    May 27th, 2003 at 10:59 | #5

    I’ll just add another plug for OpenOffice. Its very functional (better than Office even in many advanced functions), seamlessly compatible (once its configured to use Office formats as default, though OpenOffice’s XML format has technical advantages) and it’s available for Windows, Linux, Mac & other flavours. I use Office at work and OpenOffice at home, and have no trouble managing the transition.

    Its a shrewd tactic by Sun to try and rob Microsoft of its cash cow. In the long run MS will then be more vulnerable in other areas (eg OS) because it won’t be able to use anti-competitive tactics that depend on being seen to have much deeper pockets than anyone else.

    On a completely different topic, as Homer points out death taxes are efficient (in the economic sense) and in theory are very progressive. But like many wealth taxes the problems are practical – it is very hard to make serious death duties (ie that raise serious amounts of revenue) that are not arbitrary in their incidence. Its just too easy to plan around them (encumbering estates and giving the proceeeds as undocumented gifts to potential heirs, use overseas shelters, etc), so that in practice they tend only to catch the financially unsophisticated – almost by definition not the wealthy – and those who die young suddenly. If this was not so I personally would be in favour of quite confiscatory death duties, as being better than taxing work effort directly by the income tax.

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