Saturday, January 28, 2012

Warren Buffett - Mercantilist

Think a bit about the proposed Buffett Rule.     He argues that for "tax fairness" we should raise rates for the richest taxpayers (there is some dispute about what "the richest" actually means).   Buffett has had a pretty good run but look at how he made Berkshire Hathaway the company it is.

He had the good sense to rigorously look for companies, especially family owned companies, that were in need of a change in leadership.  Many of his most successful investments were in places like Borsheim's which was a mid-sized family run firm in the midwest that needed a transaction to get the family out of confiscatory estate taxes.   Then there was his touting of Fannie Mae - where he was a very heavy investor.   Not all of his investments have been based on utilizing government policy, but many have been.  

Classic mercantilism was linked more to foreign trade - mercantilists were granted special favors by the state to run a particular good or franchise.   But the key principle was the use of state power to alter the market.   Estate taxes, when utilized effectively as Buffett has done, are as close to a mercantilist grant as you can come.  Higher income tax rates would also have the effect of altering behaviors.  They would encourage fewer taxpayers to take risks in the marketplace.   With the diminished importance of estate taxes, they would also encourage more high wealth individuals to consider complex strategies to avoid taxes.

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