There has been a fair amount of public debate about whether rich people in the U.S. should be paying more in taxes and the lack of progressivity in our current tax system. The issue got lots of attention last year after Warren Buffett, of Berkshire Hathaway fame, made a public case for the wealthy to pay more in taxes. He personalized the issue by saying his secretary paid more in federal taxes than he, the multi-billionaire did.
Now more recently, Stephen King, the infamous horror novelist, entered this fray with an article in The Daily Beast (warning – he uses very flavorful language) in which he takes to task those who oppose increasing taxes on the wealthy and especially to those who tell rich folks (like him) who think they should be paying more to Uncle Sam, to just shut up and pay more. He took a direct hit at New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who has been vocal in saying those wealthy people who want to give the government more money should just go ahead and do it.
While I am in agreement with Christie in part, I disagree about the “shut up” part of his argument. Stephen King, Warren Buffett or anyone else who wants to argue for a different tax system or a higher tax rate for the wealthy has every right to do so. That’s called freedom of speech.
But I think King, Buffett and other wealthy folks who think they are not paying enough in taxes look somewhat hypocritical when they don’t go ahead and do it on their own while they continue to work for the policy change they desire. Their case would be made stronger if they banded together and said, look we don’t think we are paying enough and we are writing checks to the government on our own to demonstrate our commitment to this issue, and we invite other wealthy folks to join us in this effort for the good of our country. Heck, they could even form an association of wealthy people who want to increase taxes on themselves. We have an association for everything in America!
To me, this is somewhat similar to saying you think the government should ban the use of plastic bags, because they are a nuisance and are bad for our environment, but in the meantime until that public policy changes, you continue to use plastic bags rather than find an alternative. You get the point. If you feel strongly about something and want to get the public policy changed, it seems like you should take the personal initiative to make the change yourself if you can.
I have nothing against Buffett or King. They seem like good fellows and I am a fan of King’s writing. But I think in this case, where they do have some personal control over the issue they are passionate about, they need to put their money where their mouths are if they want a greater level of credibility.