A Plutocrat Speaks Out (Finally)

Posted by Bob Lord

Bill Gross, co-founder of the investment firm Pimco and one of the wealthiest men in the world, spoke out today on inequality and the need to tax the top 1%. This was not Warren Buffet's platitudes about how he should not have a lower tax rate than his secretary, or how hard he is trying to cajole fellow billionaires into signing the "giving pledge," where they promise to leave half their wealth to a foundation, controlled by their descendants, that dribbles out contributions to charities of their choice while paying themselves generous salaries.

No, this was straight talk about how lucky the super-rich are and how outrageous and immoral their unwillingness to pay more in tax is. Gross' letter is not long, and well worth the read. Here are the high points, starting with Gross' courageous confession of guilt:

Having benefited enormously via the leveraging of capital since the beginning of my career and having shared a decreasing percentage of my income thanks to Presidents Reagan and Bush 43 via lower government taxes, I now find my intellectual leanings shifting to the plight of labor. I often tell my wife Sue it’s probably a Kennedy-esque type of phenomenon. Having gotten rich at the expense of labor, the guilt sets in and I begin to feel sorry for the less well-off, writing very public Investment Outlooks that “dis” the success that provided me the soapbox in the first place. 

It gets better. Here's Gross talking straight to his fellow plutocrats, with candor that is as refreshing as it is brilliant:

Still, I would ask the Scrooge McDucks of the world who so vehemently criticize what they consider to be counterproductive, even crippling taxation of the wealthy in the midst of historically high corporate profits and personal income, to consider this: Instead of approaching the tax reform argument from the standpoint of what an enormous percentage of the overall income taxes the top 1% pay, consider how much of the national income you’ve been privileged to make. In the United States, the share of total pre-tax income accruing to the top 1% has more than doubled from 10% in the 1970s to 20% today. Admit that you, and I and others in the magnificent “1%” grew up in a gilded age of credit, where those who borrowed money or charged fees on expanding financial assets had a much better chance of making it to the big tent than those who used their hands for a living. Yes I know many of you money people worked hard as did I, and you survived and prospered where others did not. A fair economic system should always allow for an opportunity to succeed. Congratulations. Smoke that cigar, enjoy that Chateau Lafite 1989. But (mostly you guys) acknowledge your good fortune at having been born in the ‘40s, ‘50s or ‘60s, entering the male-dominated workforce 25 years later, and having had the privilege of riding a credit wave and a credit boom for the past three decades. You did not, as President Obama averred, “build that,” you did not create that wave. You rode it. And now it’s time to kick out and share some of your good fortune by paying higher taxes or reforming them to favor economic growth and labor, as opposed to corporate profits and individual gazillions. You’ll still be able to attend those charity galas and demonstrate your benevolence and philanthropic character to your admiring public. You’ll just have to write a little bit smaller check. [emphasis mine]

In closing, Gross recognizes directly the link between inequality and economic health:

And back to my original point. Developed economies work best when inequality of incomes are at a minimum. Right now, the U.S. ranks 16th on a Gini coefficient for developed countries, barely ahead of Spain and Greece. By reducing the 20% of national income that “golden scrooges” now earn, by implementing more equitable tax reform that equalizes capital gains, carried interest and nominal income tax rates, we might move up the list to challenge more productive economies such as Germany and Canada.

Our problems are significant, Mr. President, and “Obamacare” and the signing up for it is far down the list of what we need to correct in order to move in the direction of “old normal” growth rates. Surely a few astute observers in Congress know that as well. Until we can more equitably balance “Scrooge McDuck” tax rates to rebalance wealth and “GINI coefficients,” while at the same time focusing on investment in the real as opposed to the financial economy, then the prospects for markets – whatever the asset class – are anything but “golden.”

If only more of our wealthy had their heads on straight and were willing to speak out like this. If only. 

One response to “A Plutocrat Speaks Out (Finally)

  1. Is this willful blindness or are you part of this deception? Buffet, and now Gross are extrmely selfish people. The have never and are not now advocating for higher taxes on themselvesand Gross’s. They are advocating for higher taxes on their competitors.

    To tax them , we would have to adopt Sweden’s technique of taxing accumulated capital. You can’t get at the one percent without doing so. To subject Buffer to the same brutal taxation environment he has imposed on small businesses, you would need for him to pay an annual tax of four percent on accumulated capital gains – a cool $2 billion dollar check he would have to write each year.

    This, of course would completely destroy his job creation ability the same way he has badly damaged the job creation ability of small businesses.