Billionaires Bernie Marcus and John Catsimatidis this week took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to complain about having to pay taxes on the grounds that they know how to spend their money far better than the government does, and should thus be left alone so they can create wealth.
Marcus, who is the founder of home goods retailer Home Depot, and Catsimatidis, who is a supermarket magnate based in New York, both believe that it would be deeply wrong for them to pay higher taxes because making money is the single most patriotic thing they do as American citizens.
"We know we can spend our dollars more wisely, and in ways that benefit our communities and our country, than politicians can," they write. "We continually plow most of our earnings back into the enterprises and charities we support, built, own or operate. Our businesses in particular are our legacies, and our greatest passion is to ensure that they keep growing and innovating for decades beyond our lifetimes. Every additional dollar the government takes from us is a dollar less for this critical process of expanding America’s wealth and job-creating businesses."
In the case of Marcus's Home Depot, however, "plowing" earnings back into the company often takes the form of share buybacks that benefit investors but do not raise wages for workers.
As CNBC reported earlier this year, Home Depot announced a massive $15 billion buyback of shares that was so large that it earned the company the title of a "Buyback Monster."
Given that buybacks don't put more money into workers' salaries or research and development, they have become an easy target for politicians who attack them as drivers of wealth inequality. Even conservatives like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) now want to end tax advantages for stock buybacks on the ground that "we have too often failed to make the well-being of working Americans the terms for market success."
Marcus's claim that his business is providing prosperity for its employees is also dubious given Home Depot's long history of union busting, which prevents employees from bargaining for higher pay.
Home Depot has also been the subject of multiple class-action lawsuits filed on behalf of its workers, including a $2.6 million settlement over claims that the company failed to provide adequate seating to its workers, and a $10 million settlement for not properly training its employees to handle hazardous waste, which led to a fire breaking out in a store in Marina del Rey, California.
Elsewhere in the editorial, the billionaires say that taxing them would mean they would not be able to give as much money to charity. But as Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik argues, one major reason why billionaires give to charity is because it helps them score further tax reductions.
Additionally, all of this charitable giving on behalf of the wealthy has not fixed problems such as contaminated pipes in Flint, Michigan, nor the continuously crumbling roads and bridges that blanket the American heartland.