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Tax Quotes and Epigrams of the Rich and Famous

"The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax." — Albert Einstein

compiled by Michael R. Burch, an editor of Holocaust and Nakba poetry

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It's time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice. — Warren Buffet, the "Oracle of Omaha"

Buffet made a good point: the United States has asked millions of young men and women to sacrifice their lives, health and mental well-being for their country, so why can’t multi-millionaires and billionaires be asked to make much smaller sacrifices they can easily afford? Why are young men and women from the poor and middle classes asked to sacrifice everything, while the people who have the most to lose aren't asked to sacrifice things they can do without: money they are too affluent to need to spend?

Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both. — Eleanor Roosevelt

Buffett proposed repealing tax reductions for the highest wage earners, pointing out that he pays a lower tax rate than any of the other 20 people in his office. In fact, Buffet, the third-richest man in the world, pays less than half of what his co-workers pay: 17.4% versus an average of 36% and a high of 41%. And what does our government do with much of the money paid by average Janes and Joes, but use it to finance arms sales to despots abroad? If rich, powerful people want an overseas military empire, shouldn't they at least "tote the note" themselves?

Foreign aid is taking money from the poor people of a rich country and giving it to the rich people of a poor country.—Ron Paul

I might add that after we give billions of dollars in to rich despots, they often end up using the money to abuse their own people, as happened with the Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein, and a long list of other American "allies."

Throughout the ages, many wise men and women, from the Hebrew prophets, to Jesus Christ and the apostles, to the American Founding Fathers, to people of conscience like Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. have spoken clearly and forthrightly about the need for social justice, which of course includes economic justice. And yet right-wing Republicans who claim to believe the Bible consistently and relentlessly force the poor and middle income classes to bear the brunt of the national debt in order to preserve tax cuts for the super-rich. Nowhere in the Bible can anyone find support for a policy that taxes the rich at a lower rate than poorer people. So it seems the GOP is not only practicing voodoo economics, but false religion as well. Warren Buffet doesn't want to be taxed at half the rate of his fellow-workers, nor would he have to change his lifestyle if he paid more taxes. So why are his poorer brethren bearing a greater percentage of the load?

Whatsoever you do unto the least of these, my brethren, ye do it unto me. — Jesus Christ

I think Mohandas Gandhi may have had conservative Christian politicians in mind when he said:

I like your Christ, but not Christianity. You Christians are so unlike your Christ.Mohandas Gandhi

Getting back to taxes: the vast majority of Americans, including most working class Republicans, agree with Warren Buffet. As reported three days before Christmas by The Huffington Post, "Nearly three-quarters of Americans say they support President Barack Obama's proposal to tax households making $1 million or more at the same or higher rate as middle-class households." Please note that this is not a "tax increase," but simple fairness. And even with such a change, the wealthy will still have a huge advantage over other taxpayers because most Americans spend the bulk of what they make, which means they pay additional taxes such as sales taxes, property taxes and taxes built into the price of gasoline. Conversely, the rich save most of what they make, so they will still pay much lower overall tax rates. And of course the rich pay absolutely nothing on stocks and bonds they buy and don’t sell, which is why Bill Gates has never a penny in taxes on most of his billions.

Even though a large plurality of everyday Republicans agree with Warren Buffet, Republican leaders derided Buffet’s plan as "class warfare." In reality, they are the ones carrying out class warfare on 99% of Americans, in order to protect the wealthiest 1% from simple fairness. Only 60,000 Americans would be affected by the "Buffet Rule," or roughly .02% (if the rule was extended to a full 1% of the richest Americans, it would help our nation’s finances even more).

Here's what Buffett, the world's third richest man, has to say about class warfare: "There’s class warfare, all right. But it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning. But I think that people at the high end — people like myself — should be paying a lot more in taxes. We have it better than we've ever had it. The rich are always going to say that, you know, just give us more money and we'll go out and spend more and then it will all trickle down to the rest of you. But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on."

One wealthy American just "buffeted" the GOP Grinches with words; now if the 99% decide to buffet them at the voting booth, perhaps we can right the Ship of State before it sinks in a sea of debt.

In closing, let me point out what other wise men and women have said on the subject. A number of them suggest that a "trickle up" approach makes much more sense that a "trickle down" approach, because non-wealthy people spend most of what they make, and guess who owns the establishments where they spend their money?

Tax Quotes of the Rich and Famous: Trickle Down or Trickle Up?

An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailments of all republics. — Plutarch, Greek historian, c.100 A.D.

The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich ... It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion. — Adam Smith, considered to be the father of economics and one of the first advocates of capitalism, writing in The Wealth of Nations in 1776

Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. — Benjamin Franklin, 1789

Death and taxes and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them! — Margaret Mitchell, speaking through Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, 1936

The American colonies, all know, were greatly opposed to taxation without representation. They were also, a less celebrated quality, equally opposed to taxation with representation. — John Kenneth Galbraith, The Age of Uncertainty

Social unrest and a deepening sense of unfairness are dangers to our national life which we must minimize by rigorous methods. People know that vast personal incomes come not only through the effort or ability or luck of those who receive them, but also because of the opportunities for advantage which Government itself contributes. — President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, explaining why the rich should pay higher taxes than the poor and middle class

So-called "supply-side economists" [some call them "voodoo economists"] don’t like raising taxes on anyone and argue that raising them on the well-off will slow economic growth. They say people at the top will have less incentive to work hard, invest and invent. History has proven them wrong. During 1951 to 1980, when America’s top marginal tax rate was between 70 percent and 92 percent, the nation’s average annual growth was 3.7 percent. But between 1983 and start of the Great Recession, when the top rate was far lower — ranging between 35 percent and 39 percent — the economy grew an average of just 3 percent per year. Supply-siders are fond of claiming Ronald Reagan’s 1981 cuts caused the 1980s economic boom. In fact, that boom followed Reagan’s 1982 tax increase. The 1990s boom was not the result of a tax cut. It came after Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax increase. — Robert Reich, U.S. Secretary of Labor, 2010, also agreeing with FDR and explaining why the facts don't support "trickle up" economic policies

I could choose to tell my story this way: "I arrived with $250 in my pocket, and got where I am based entirely on my hard work." This is true, but it's not the whole truth .... Every day I benefit from schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, parks, and civic amenities that were built and paid for by previous generations who were much less well off than we are today. Yet they had the collective will to invest in their future and the future of their children. I am worried, though, that things are changing in America. The kinds of public investments that made my success possible are vanishing ... But during the last decade, taxpayers in my income group received significant tax breaks ... Taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized and healthy society. Those of us who have disproportionately benefited from public investments have a responsibility to pay back our society so that others can have similar opportunities. — Arul Menezes, who earned his wealth at Microsoft, agreeing with FDR

Those of us who have the greatest ability to pay are not being asked to. I am not keen on being part of the freeloader class. — Bill Collins, who earned his wealth in real estate, also agreeing with FDR

It’s a sad state in this country when those of us who are so privileged fight for more rather than fight for those among us who have so little. — Jeffery Hollender, co-founder of Seventh Generation, 2010, also agreeing with FDR

Why shouldn't the American people take half my money from me? I took it all from them. — Edward Filene, founder of Filene's Department Stores, also joining the chorus of wealthy Americans who agreed with FDR

This [increasing income inequality] is not the type of thing which a democratic society—a capitalist democratic society—can really accept without addressing. — Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve Board Chairman

The taxation system has tilted toward the rich and away from the middle class in the past ten years. It is dramatic ... and I think it should be addressed ... We [Buffett and his late wife] agreed with Andrew Carnegie, who said that huge fortunes that flow in large part from society should in large part be returned to society ... There’s class warfare, all right. But it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning. But I think that people at the high end — people like myself — should be paying a lot more in taxes. We have it better than we've ever had it. The rich are always going to say that, you know, just give us more money and we'll go out and spend more and then it will all trickle down to the rest of you. But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on. — Warren Buffett, the world's third richest man

The rich are not paying their fair share in any nation that is facing the kind of employment issues [the United States is], whether it's individual, corporate, whatever the taxation forms are .. Brazil has the highest tax-to-GDP rate in the Western Hemisphere and guess what — it's growing like crazy. And the rich are getting richer, but they're pulling people out of poverty ... There is a certain formula there that used to work for us until we abandoned it, to our regret in my opinion. Hilary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, 2010

Higher taxes on huge paydays can help finance opportunity for the next generation of Americans. — Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix

What people really want is fairness. They want people paying their fair share of taxes. — Barack Obama, 2007

All I'm saying is that those who have done well, including me, should pay their fair share in taxes. — Barack Obama, 2011

My father, Ronald Reagan, battled successfully to simplify the tax code but his work has been largely undone. The arrogance of those who use the tax code to manipulate citizen behavior and Congressional ambitions for personal advancement have again corrupted the already destructive income tax system. It will fall to the American people to once again reject unfair taxation that favors the mighty at the expense of the public ... My father said, "Our federal tax system is, in short, utterly impossible, utterly unjust and completely counterproductive, it reeks with injustice and is fundamentally un-American … it has earned a rebellion and it’s time we rebelled." That second great tax rebellion is now underway at Tea Party patriots, FairTaxers, Flat Taxers, and most Americans of every political persuasion understand that the federal tax system fuels unchecked government spending, hides the cost of government from the American taxpayer and has become corrupted into indecipherability by Congressional profits and power. Citizens are coming together from across the political spectrum and across the nation to wake Washington up to the voice of the American people. — Michael Reagan

The Best Tax Relief, Laughter

The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax. — Albert Einstein, perhaps the most intelligent person the human race has produced to date

There is one difference between a tax collector and a taxidermist — the taxidermist leaves the hide. — Mortimer Caplan, American bureaucrat, Director of the IRS,1963

Indoors or out, no one relaxes
In March, that month of wind and taxes,
The wind will presently disappear,
The taxes last us all the year.
— Ogden Nash, "Thar She Blows," 1949

Beware of the taxman; he’ll pinch your wallet! — Anonymous

Why does a slight tax increase cost you two hundred dollars and a substantial tax cut save you thirty cents? — Peg Bracken, American author

The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing. — Jean Baptiste Colbert, minister of finance to Louis XIV of France (also attributed to Cardinal Mazarin, under whom Colbert served)

The only thing that hurts more than paying an income tax is not having to pay an income tax. — Lord Thomas R. Dewar (1864-1930)

The reward of energy, enterprise and thrift ... is taxes. — William Feather

Take my taxes, please! — Michael R. Burch, thinking of Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield

Unintentional Tax Comedy

Read my lips: No new taxes! — George Bush, who did raise taxes after all, in his acceptance speech, 1988

Words of Warning about the Dangers of Overtaxation

An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy. — Daniel Webster, 1819

If you tax too high, the revenue will yield nothing. — Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Compensation," 1841

Of all debts men are least willing to pay the taxes. What a satire is this on government! — Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1929

Note, besides, that it is no more immoral to directly rob citizens than to slip indirect taxes into the price of goods that they cannot do without. — Albert Camus, Caligula, 1962

Countries, therefore, when lawmaking falls exclusively to the lot of the poor cannot hope for much economy in public expenditure; expenses will always be considerable, either because taxes cannot touch those who vote for them or because they are assessed in a way to prevent that. — Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1840

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