Daily Reckoning Contributor

Life isn’t fair. Some extremely smart people never make much money. Similarly, some rather stupid people seem to fall into it and make fortunes. Go figure. Then, there is Warren Buffett.

Warren is fond of playing the role of the “folksy” type who still lives in his modest house in nowhere Omaha and owns an old car he’s had for years. Just plain folk, he’d have you believe. Well, DON’T believe it! This is the same Buffett who constantly travels by private jet; is chauffeured by limousines wherever he goes; regularly stays at 5-star hotels; invests in deals not available to any other investors. Yet, he’d have you believe he’s just like you. Sure!

Lately, Warren has been a shill for Obama. Over and over again, we hear how good ole Warren “wants” to pay more taxes and thinks his wealthy buddies ought to follow suit. “We aren’t taxed enough,” he says. Well, let’s take a closer look at just where Warren stands when it really comes down to paying his taxes. Not at what he says about taxes but what he has actually done regarding the paying of taxes that he legitimately owes.

There are two recent cases where Warren has done everything possible to AVOID paying taxes that he actually owes. The first case involved a 14-year fight over the dividend-received deduction that was finally settled with the IRS in 2005. The second case is still pending after 10 years in which he owes just over $1 BILLION in back taxes. Both of these cases are well-documented and you can satisfy yourself simply by using Google to inquire as to the voracity of these assertions. Also note the timeframes of 14-years and 10+-years; not exactly a haphazard hissy fit. While you’re at it, you might also ask yourself “why” Warren says one thing in public discourse while he practices the exact opposite in his business and personal life. Is not that the definition of hypocrite?

Warren is NOT being chided here for attempting to pay as little in taxes as possible. Any sane person will pursue all legal avenues to pay as little tax as possible. In fact, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled thus: “Any one may so arrange his affairs that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which will best pay the Treasury; there is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes.” Judge Learned Hand in 1934.

Then there is the recent deal involving the Bank of America “investment.” Warren would have you believe he just stepped-in to help the BofA stave-off a potential financial problem; out of the goodness of his heart, of course. Could you be shocked to learn the truth behind this deal?

Buffett is now at the center of another tax controversy, according to The Wall Street Journal. His recent decision to invest in Bank of America “represents another tax-avoidance triumph for the Berkshire chief executive,” the Journal wrote in an editorial.

US corporations are subject to a top federal income tax rate of 35 percent; the second highest in the world. But Berkshire won’t pay anything close to that on their investment in BofA preferred shares. (Note “Preferred” shares to boot! That means preference ahead of common shareholders — translation: you and me).

“Berkshire will hold the [BofA] investment in a property-casualty insurance subsidiary. Such corporations can exclude from taxation 59.5% of the dividends they receive from an investment in another corporation,” the Journal reported. “This exclusion is intended to prevent double- or even triple-taxation as money is earned by one company, paid to another company and then ultimately paid out to shareholders. The policy makes sense; we only wonder why the exclusion isn’t 100%.

“With the exclusion for Mr. Buffett and his fellow shareholders, Berkshire will enjoy an effective tax rate of 14.175% on the $300 million in dividends it will receive each year from Bank of America,” the Journal reported. [Remember, his secretary pays a higher tax rate?].

These new revelations about Buffett’s tax practices have only furthered enraged conservatives at the hypocrisy being shown by the famed “Oracle of Omaha.”

Please note that this article is NOT dissing Warren about using every available option to minimize taxes. That is the only sane approach any business man or individual would take. What is so objectionable is that he simultaneously pretends to be an Altruist “just looking out for the folks” while his personal behavior represents the exact opposite. Had you not just read this brief description of the BofA deal, would it even have occurred to you to question what might be behind the so-called benevolence of the Oracle of Omaha?

Writing in the conservative website Human Events, John Hayward states: “Warren Buffett is no different from the other liars and frauds orbiting Barack Obama. His hypocrisy just runs billions of dollars deeper. When it comes to ‘shared sacrifice,’ you do the sacrificing, and they do the sharing.”

That sounds like a rather good summary of the Buffett hypocrisy.


Tex Norton,
for The Daily Reckoning

Daily Reckoning Contributor

The Daily Reckoning occasionally features commentary from financial analysts, experts, gold bugs, economists and an array of contributors from various fields and occupations. Their diverse insights and contrarian investing ideas are hand selected by your Daily Reckoning editors.


  • Jean

    And what happens when a nominee of a “nominees” company, which “nominees” company is a shareholder in an investment, sells his interest in the investment (through the “nominees” company), to another nominee of the same “nominees” company and the “nominees” company is situated in a tax haven? For the “nominees” company, there is no change as a shareholder in its interest as a shareholder in the investment!

    If undisclosed for tax purposes by the seller of the interest, would that be tax avoidance or tax evasion?

  • DoesNotMatter

    The “invests in deals not available to any other investor” is what hits the nail on the head. I realized that all the rules of investing he talks about were just for people like him. He makes most of his money by investing in deals other people are not allowed to. That gives him rock bottom entry price. But when he sells, it’s to the entire general market. His competition is restricted, but his customers are unlimited. Hell, my parrot would make money with priveleges like that. And with all his money and influence, does anyone really believe that he does not use it to get inside information from people in government? Or influence government officials to do things beneficial to him?

  • Bill Bryan

    I greatly admire Buffet’s financial
    wizardry; but, why does Buffet, Bill
    Gates, Eli Broad and a score of other
    billionaires oppose quality education
    for America’s kids via taxpayer funded
    vouchers?! They spent tens of millions
    to defeat referenda in Washington State,
    California, etc…to defeat this great
    tool allowing kids to escape toxic
    Government Public Schools.

  • Jimmy

    Two things, first, Buffett worked the same rules as everyone else. Just because he advocates higher taxes for the wealthy, that doesn’t mean he’s stupid and can’t leverage current tax laws to his advantage. He wants everyone to play by the same rules which he is doing. Second, Buffett didn’t fly in a private jet and live in 5 star hotels .etc until much later in life. In fact, he’s still a penny pinching person for the most part. When would you suggest he start spending his money, when he’s dead?

  • Tee

    How strange – this mr Buffet figure brings to memory mr Lay of Enron fame
    who put it like “see, I was living the American dream”

  • Mattej

    I used to be a farmer but got fed up paying retail to big corporations for inputs, and selling outputs wholesale, often at cartel suppressed prices back to probably the same corporations. The market is the same, the traders are just getting greedier, it is like everything when the middleman has the power, they destroy the basic producer, look at nature, a sparrowhawk will come in and demolish the small bird population and move on, or preferably fly into a window and kill itself, but the that varied population takes years to return if ever, but that is a natural order of things.

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