Hack of the year

by | Nov 15, 2007

In the National Review, Grover G. Norquist (slogan: “Getting the Government’s Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives”) wonders why Warren Buffet opposes the abolition of America’s inheritance tax (or ‘death tax’ as Norquist prefers):

At first blush, you might expect “the Oracle of Omaha” to be a big proponent of death-tax repeal. The CEO of Berkshire Hathaway is the third-richest person in the world (according to Forbes magazine) and is worth about $52 billion. Yet Buffett is one of the biggest proponents of the death tax.

It’s an interesting question. So what’s the answer? According to Norquist, it’s because Buffet is a ‘leach’, driven by pure cynicism and self-interest:

Buffett has major investments in companies that sell life insurance. The death tax has helped make him rich while it has made other families poor. What’s sad and ironic is that it takes families with the resources of the Buffetts (and the Hiltons and the Kardashians) to set up the trusts and life-insurance schemes that are necessary to avoid paying the death tax.

And yet, nowhere in the article does he even mention that Buffet is so opposed to kids inheriting money that is he giving away most of his:

Buffett does not believe that it is wise to bequeath great wealth… Having put his two sons and a daughter through college, the Omaha investor contents himself with giving them several thousand dollars each at Christmas. Beyond that, says daughter Susan, 33, ”If I write my dad a check for $20, he cashes it.”

Buffett is not cutting his children out of his fortune because they are wastrels or wantons or refuse to go into the family business — the traditional reasons rich parents withhold money. Says he: ”My kids are going , to carve out their own place in this world, and they know I’m for them whatever they want to do.” But he believes that setting up his heirs with ”a lifetime supply of food stamps just because they came out of the right womb” can be ”harmful” for them and is ”an antisocial act.”

To him the perfect amount to leave children is ”enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.” For a college graduate, Buffett reckons ”a few hundred thousand dollars” sounds about right.

Buffet plans to donate $44bn to charity over the next few years – with most of it going to help the Gates Foundation fight poverty around the world. It’s the biggest philanthropic gift the world has ever seen.

You’d think Norquist might have wanted to mention this as he lays into Buffett. After all, he has a reputation for rectitude and honesty to protect… Oh wait, it’s that Grover Norquist, the one who stuck his trout into the trough provided by disgraced (and jailed) lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The one a Senate committee exposed as a money-launderer. I suppose he can distort Buffet’s motives as much as he likes then…


  • David Steven is a senior fellow at the UN Foundation and at New York University, where he founded the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children and the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, a multi-stakeholder partnership to deliver the SDG targets for preventing all forms of violence, strengthening governance, and promoting justice and inclusion. He was lead author for the ministerial Task Force on Justice for All and senior external adviser for the UN-World Bank flagship study on prevention, Pathways for Peace. He is a former senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of The Risk Pivot: Great Powers, International Security, and the Energy Revolution (Brookings Institution Press, 2014). In 2001, he helped develop and launch the UK’s network of climate diplomats. David lives in and works from Pisa, Italy.

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