Business guru and famous super-rich person Warren Buffett made waves last month with an op-ed in The New York Times, "Stop Coddling the Super-Rich," calling for higher taxes for him and other obscenely wealthy Americans. He argued that the nation's very well-off are not sacrificing enough in these hard times and enjoying a tax rate much lower than what's it has been set for the rich in previous decades. There have been a variety of responses to Buffett's piece, some supportive, some not. But today we have a response from the wealthy themselves, and nearly half agree with Buffett's sentiment. 48 percent of those with several million dollars in assets are willing to pay more taxes for the common good, according to a recently released survey.
U.S. Trust, a division of Bank of America, surveyed (PDF) 457 rich Americans and released a comprehensive picture of how these wealthy people think about their wealth. It should be noted it was those with $3 million or more in assets (excluding primary residence) who were surveyed, a group that includes many more people than the super-wealthy group Buffett wrote of. Nevertheless, even among a substantial portion of the merely rich there was a willingness to give more in taxes. 12 percent "strongly agreed" and 36 percent "somewhat agreed" with the statement "I would be willing to pay more in taxes for the common good." An even greater portion of the rich--58 percent--indicated that they would pay more in taxes if they knew the money was going to directly benefit their community. However, that seeming magnanimity is tempered by another finding that about two-thirds of those surveyed believe that higher taxes on the wealthy unfairly penalize the financially successful. So maybe they aren't so open to a higher tax bill after all.
Those aren't the only interesting findings. While nearly all those surveyed were wealthier than their parents, almost half believe their children will not be as well off, with many indicating that their kids are not prepared to handle their inheritance. As summarized in a Los Angeles Times article today, about half also don't feel the need to leave their kids any money. Three-fourths perceive a growing animosity toward the rich, even though two-thirds say there's a trickle-down effect to their wealth that's beneficial to society. And curiously, four in 10 of the wealthy wouldn't call themselves wealthy, echoing a similar finding from another survey in May.
But back to story: What's behind that inconsistency--how can some say that we want to pay more in taxes even through they feel like it's penalizing them? It's probably has to do with some belief about the (in)efficiency of taxation. This hypothetical rich person is willing to contribute more in taxes if they knew for sure that the money was used properly. But mostly likely they are suspicious of how that money will be used and why exactly they're being taxed. Or perhaps it has to do with the questions' wording. After all, people are likely disinclined to tell a surveyor they're against the "common good."