Editorial do WSJ
The least he can do is show Americans why he pays so little
Warren Buffett has forcefully injected himself into the U.S. political debate, with President Obama using the billionaire's anecdote that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary as a bludgeon in favor of raising taxes on millions of other Americans.
The Omaha stock-picker has every right to do so, and his foray may even do some good. His tax claim has already had the educational benefit of prompting the press to report that, as a general matter, the Buffett-Obama premise is false. CEOs don't typically pay lower rates than middle-class secretaries.
As data from the Internal Revenue Service make clear, the vast majority of those earning more than $1 million per year typically pay tax rates two to three times higher than people making less than $100,000. In 2008, the average tax rate for millionaires and above was 23.3% and for those earning between $30,000 and $50,000 it was 7.2%.
But the opportunity to educate the public would be even greater if Mr. Buffett would let everyone else in on his secrets of tax avoidance by releasing his tax returns. Going only by Mr. Buffett's unverified claims, his federal taxes in 2010 amounted to 17.4% of his taxable income, probably because much of his income was from capital gains and dividends. It's also likely that he took significant deductions for charitable donations. No doubt the millions of Americans who could end up paying more because of this claim would love to see the details.
Mr. Buffett also wrote in the New York Times that none of the other people in his office paid less than a 33% rate, and at least one colleague paid 41%. This suggests that Mr. Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway staff are the kind of folks the President would consider "rich." Mr. Obama might even call them "millionaires and billionaires" if some of them have annual incomes of more than $200,000.
We wouldn't want to violate their individual privacy, but since Mr. Buffett is using them to make a political point, perhaps he'd be willing to disclose the most important lines on their returns without disclosing their names. This too would be instructive.
To our knowledge Mr. Buffett hasn't publicly disclosed his own return beyond offering a peek to talk-show host Charlie Rose. If Mr. Buffett's anecdote is going to be the main political basis for rewriting the U.S. tax code, Americans have every right to know the basis for the anecdote. We called Berkshire Hathaway last week to see if Mr. Buffett would release his 2010 return, but we haven't heard back.