A Battle of Titans – Buffet v. Koch

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published an op-ed entitled “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich” authored by American investor and billionaire Warren Buffet. Considered the third wealthiest man in the world as of 2011, Buffet lamented, among other things, how many of his “fellow citizens are truly suffering” and concluded by suggesting a tax increase on those he defines as the “super-rich” and that the government “get serious about shared sacrifice.”

Lauded by the left, Buffet’s comments have been widely quoted by those who attempt to argue for “revenue increases” for the federal government and who scoff at the Tea Party’s push to cut spending. Surely if Warren Buffet insists that his taxes be raised, then there should be no excuse for other wealthy individuals in this country not to take part in the “shared sacrifice” as well – or at least that is the rationale.

Such thinking, however, is not universal among the “super-rich” of whom Buffet appeared to elect himself as the head. Charles G. Koch, American businessman and fellow billionaire, returned fire by releasing the following statement to the National Review:

“Much of what the government spends money on does more harm than good; this is particularly true over the past several years with the massive uncontrolled increase in government spending. I believe my business and non-profit investments are much more beneficial to societal well-being than sending more money to Washington.”

Herein this singular exchange of words between some of the richest men in America and the world, the true dichotomy of the political spectrum can be seen in full: altruism versus egoism (or, in terms of the recent debt ceiling debate, progressivism versus the Tea Party). Koch, who runs the company which bears his father’s name alongside his older brother David, argues that individual productivity is the true foundation of improving people’s lives. Buffet, on the other hand, argues that societal and economic progress is the result of “shared-sacrifice.”

So which of these billionaires is correct? Let us examine the consistent application of their claims: Koch, who argues that everyone is already having too much of their money taken from them by the government, prefers that individuals be able to keep more of their incomes. In this way, people would be able to use their incomes in a way that best affects their rational self-interests. Nevertheless, Koch realizes that with the current deficit in Washington, such a reduction in taxes would be impossible at this time, so he argues for reductions in spending to turn that ideal into reality.

Oppositely, Buffet argues that, while the sacrifices being made by those less financially well-off than him are acceptable, the lack of sacrifice that he is being asked to contribute to the proverbial “greater good” is unconscionable. He does not want to alleviate the burden placed upon middle and lower class families; he merely wants to have the same burden placed on himself. Buffet, too, recognizes the fiscal instability in Washington, but rather than stand for a solution that increases personal liberty and independence, he requests that the altruism practiced by our government be practiced more consistently for said “greater good” – the self-interests of the ones doing the sacrificing are unimportant.

Without question, Koch is in the right while Buffet is in the wrong, if not through the reason of Koch’s position than through the lack of reason in Buffet’s. According to Buffet’s logic, the American people, rather than volitionally donating a portion of their income to those in need, should elect politicians who will enact policies to forcibly take a portion of their income and then give it to someone in need, supposedly making the process more efficient through the added cost of bureaucracy. Furthermore, if Buffet is dissatisfied with the fact that he proportionally pays less into the U.S. Treasury every year than his secretaries who make noticeably less on the whole, then he and his like-minded associates are free to make as many donations as they wish of their own volition to the Treasury to clear their consciences (though they may reject this notion as it could cease to be a “sacrifice” in their minds if they are not forced to do so).

What Buffet fails to realize is that not everyone shares the same interests as him. The same people on lower rungs of the economic ladder who he pretends to sympathize with may not want anything to do with the “shared sacrifice” he desires. This sort of coercive taxation necessarily conflicts with an individual’s property rights and his rights to pursue his own happiness, not to mention it is necessarily irrational even if there are those emotionally willing to forgo their income and self-interests for another.

Koch’s stance rejects any such coercion. Although argued on practical rather than moral terms, the moral implications of capitalism and individual rights can be drawn from Koch’s press release. As the co-founder of the Cato Institute and a frequent supporter of Tea Party candidates and other free-market supporters, Koch most certainly understands the importance of individual rights to man’s life and our system of government even if not stated explicitly.

All the same, it should go without saying in this publication that the only true defense of capitalism, the only defense that capitalism deserves is a moral defense. Undoubtedly, Koch is absolutely correct in his assertion of the concretized results of a mixed economy as opposed to a laissez-faire system, but he should not and need not argue at such a level. Instead, he should argue from a point of moral supremacy, ground from which he cannot be shaken. So long as he still concedes that the well-being of society is the value off of which all others are judged, he grants the upper hand to the altruists. I will not condone this error as an acceptable substitution for a truly moral, egoistic defense of capitalism, but I will say that it most likely was just that – an error. Koch’s other works over the years give evidence to this inference. Regardless, it is an error that he should not make.

In any case, Koch is not alone. Charles’ brother and business partner David stands alongside him in support of achieving a true free market, and American investor Jim Rogers has also stood in staunch opposition to the “costs of the welfare-warfare state” in favor of a free market. Furthermore, the recent grassroots movements across the United States that have begun to shift the debate away from the extent of government involvement in our pocketbooks toward whether the government should be involved in our pocketbooks at all could potentially bring us closer to achieving true capitalism.

Until that time, it will continue to fall on men like the Koch brothers, Jim Rogers, and other members of the New Right like the Tea Party to refute the philosophies of men like Warren Buffet. Altruism is the enemy, and while Charles Koch should be commended for opposing its dictates, he and all the defenders of capitalism must learn capitalism’s impregnable defense which no nonargument, fallacious reasoning, epistemological distortion, or metaphysical evasion can overcome – morality.


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