All you can eat Buffett

Not many political fads to emanate from the US deserve to make an Atlantic crossing. But the principle of a so-called Buffett rule is something that the left this side of the pond should at least be talking about.

First enunciated in an op-ed piece in the New York Times last year, written by or perhaps ghosted for legendary investor Warren Buffett, the simple idea here is that millionaires should pay a minimum tax rate of 30%.

This week the call has embraced by Barack Obama, as part of his attempt to wrong foot his Republican rival in this year’s presidential race by depicting him as a creature of Wall Street rather than Main Street. Given Mitt Romney’s ‘I like firing people’ private equity background, this should not prove unduly difficult.

Moreover, Obama will be well aware that he does not have to deliver on the deal, as it will almost certainly be rejected by Republicans when it is tabled in the Senate next week. It’s a cheap shot, and I’m not saying that in a pejorative way, either.

Don’t get me wrong, a Buffett rule would not be my personal first choice of tax reform. I am sufficiently old school on these matters never to have accepted the arguments against sharply progressive income tax.

While I am mindful of the received wisdom is that any perceived reversion to Denis Healey-style soak the rich stance would be suicidal for Labour, I am not convinced this is the case.

Osborne’s recent move to slice the 50p top rate was clearly unpopular beyond the ranks of its beneficiaries, and François Hollande maintains a healthy second round poll lead in the French presidential contest despite his call for a 75% tax band for the very wealthy.

In this country, a 30% tax minima for millionaires would have the advantage of seeming fair to much of Middle England, not least because nowadays even some top end blue collar jobs put those that do them in the 40% bracket.

No doubt the Tories would oppose such a measure, leaving themselves vulnerable to ‘cabinet of millionaires’ accusations.

But best of all, even the Daily Mail who be hard put to denounce a policy supported by the president of the United States as nasty Bolshevism.

I fail to see what’s not to like on this one.