The World’s 2nd Richest Man Calls for 90% Billionaire Wealth Tax

At this year’s Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, Warren Buffett, the billionaire CEO and the world’s 2nd richest man defended his call for higher taxes: “When Charlie [Munger, billionaire Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway] and I took this job, we did not decide to put our citizenship in a blind trust.” No, indeed. They put their assets in trusts, so they can forever avoid taxes while preserving their own tax preferred status. Paying taxes is for suckers. But all that changed at this year’s annual meeting. Buffett insists that even billionaires should pay a minimum tax. If necessary–and in his case it is–the tax should be retroactive.

Buffett and Munger have avoided paying taxes by keeping much of their wealth tied up in unsold Berkshire Hathaway shares that have risen in value and made them wealthy men. Their controlling interest in Berkshire Hathaway has allowed them to accumulate a massive cash pile, while they refuse to pay dividends to shareholders, even though they concede that Berkshire’s massive size now hampers its ability to generate more than low single-digit annual growth rates. The reason, of course, is that dividends are taxable, and as shareholders they would receive taxable dividends.

Buffett has further sheltered himself from estate taxes by gifting shares to the Gates Foundation and charitable organizations run by his children.

Retroactive Tax on Billionaires

The multi-billionaire pointed out that he’s avoided tax for decades. Meanwhile he’s accumulated massive wealth that he kept out of reach of the IRS. Buffett insists that as a matter of fairness he should be made to pay more taxes too.

Buffett feels the only way to achieve this is through a one-time wealth tax on the assets of billionaires, even those assets currently sheltered in charitable trusts and offshore vehicles. Compounding tax-sheltered wealth for decades allowed him to amass around $44 billion, and Buffett notes that the 90% wealth tax will still leave him with more than $4 billion. On an ongoing basis, a tax on increases in wealth, including unrealized capital gains, would solve the problem of tax avoiders like him benefiting at the expense of the country as a whole.

Saving Shareholders from Cash and Gold

In other news, Buffett admonished shareholders that cash is the riskiest asset they can hold over time. That’s why he’s accumulated more than $20 billion of it, a record amount of cash on Berkshire Hathaway’s balance sheet. Rather than pay that cash to shareholders as dividends, he’s helping them to avoid both potential taxes and the risk of having this cash in their own hands. Never mind that Berkshire’s future potential for return on assets is hampered by its size, his shareholders must be protected from their own incompetence.

Meanwhile, Charlie Munger told CNBC that “civilized people don’t buy gold.” As supporting evidence Munger highlighted recent gold purchases by Central Bankers.


End Note: In response to this emailed question by a reader: “Wait is the whole piece satire or did Buffett actually call for a ‘wealth tax’?” To the best of my knowledge Warren Buffett did not call for a wealth tax, at least not on his own tax sheltered wealth.

Janet Tavakoli is the president of Tavakoli Structured Finance, a Chicago-based firm that provides consulting to financial institutions and institutional investors. Ms. Tavakoli has more than 20 years of experience in senior investment banking positions, trading, structuring and marketing structured financial products. She is a former adjunct associate professor of derivatives at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business. Author of: Credit Derivatives & Synthetic Structures (1998, 2001), Collateralized Debt Obligations & Structured Finance (2003), Structured Finance & Collateralized Debt Obligations (John Wiley & Sons, September 2008). Tavakoli’s book on the causes of the global financial meltdown and how to fix it is: Dear Mr. Buffett: What an Investor Learns 1,269 Miles from Wall Street (Wiley, 2009). E-book (Kindle only): The New Robber Barons – February 2012 Compilation of commentaries from September 2008 to February 2012. “With trillions on the table, nobody plays fair, and everyone plays for keeps.”

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About Janet Tavakoli 34 Articles

Affiliation: Tavakoli Structured Finance, Inc.

Janet Tavakoli is the founder and president of Tavakoli Structured Finance, Inc. (TSF), a Chicago based consulting firm providing expert experience and knowledge about maximizing value in the capital markets in the face of complexity and uncertainty. TSF provides consulting services to financial institutions, institutional investors, and hedge funds.

Ms. Tavakoli was years ahead of the financial industry predicting lax underwriting and misrating of structured financial products would result in the collapse of the global credit bubble. She also predicted the collapse of the thrift industry, Long Term Capital Management, and First Alliance Mortgage prompting Business Week to profile her as "The Cassandra of Credit Derivatives." [2008].

Ms. Tavakoli pointed out grave flaws in the methodology for rating structured financial products in her books, Structured Finance & Collateralized Debt Obligations (2003, 2008), and Credit Derivatives (1998, 2001). She wrote the first letter the SEC posted in February 2007 in response to its proposed rules for the credit rating agencies; she made the case that the NRSRO designation for the rating agencies should be revoked for structured financial products.

Ms. Tavakoli is frequently published and quoted in financial journals including The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, Business Week, Fortune, Global Risk Review, RISK, IDD, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, LIPPER HedgeWorld, Asset Securitization Report, Journal of Structured Finance, Investor Dealers' Digest, International Securitization Report, Bloomberg News, Bloomberg Magazine, Credit, Derivatives Week,, Finance World, and others.

Frequent television appearances include CNN, CNBC, BNN, CBS Evening News, Bloomberg TV, First Business Morning News, Fox, ABC, and BBC.

Tavakoli is a former adjunct associate professor of finance at Chicago Booth (the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business) where she taught "Derivatives: Futures, Forwards, Options and Swaps".

Janet Tavakoli is the former Executive Director, Head of Financial Engineering in the Global Financial Markets Division at Westdeutsche Landesbank in London. She headed market risk management for the capital markets group for Bank One in Chicago. Tavakoli headed the asset swap trading desk at Merrill Lynch in New York, headed mortgage backed securities marketing for Merrill Lynch in New York, and headed mortgage backed securities marketing to Japanese clients for PaineWebber in New York. She also worked for Bear Stearns heading marketing for quantitative research.

She is the author of: Credit Derivatives & Synthetic Structures (1998, 2001), Collateralized Debt Obligations & Structured Finance (2003), Structured Finance & Collateralized Debt Obligations (John Wiley & Sons, September 2008), and Dear Mr. Buffett: What An Investor Learns 1,269 Miles From Wall Street (Wiley, 2009).

During her career, she has been registered and licensed with the SFA, NASD, ASE, CBOE, NYSE, PSE and the NFA and has passed the series 7, 63 and 3 qualifying exams.

Ms. Tavakoli has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology and an MBA in Finance from University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.

Visit: Tavakoli Structured Finance

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