* By Les Leopold Huffington Post *
What work do we value most?
In 2009, the worst economic year for working people since the Great Depression, the top 25 hedge fund managers walked off with an average of $1 billion each. With the money those 25 people “earned,” we could have hired 658,000 entry level teachers. (They make about $38,000 a year, including benefits.) Those educators could have brought along over 13 million young people, assuming a class size of 20. That’s some value.
Apparently the 25 hedge managers did something that is even more valued in our society. But how valuable was it, really? To assess that, we need to answer a few basic questions:
1. What do hedge managers do?
They run funds into which very rich people put money to make even more money. Hedge fund managers move the money around in very risky ways to get the most enormous yields possible. (Wealthy investors believe they are entitled to double digit and even triple digit returns.)
Because hedge funds are considered playthings for the rich, who presumably are fully aware of all the risks, they are exempt from most financial regulations. (We’ll soon see if the financial reform bill now moving through the Senate changes this in any substantial way.)
The wealthy will have placed an estimated $2 trillion into hedge funds by the end of this year. (That’s about $6,500 for every man, woman and child in the U.S.)
2. Where does all that hedge fund money come from?
It’s mostly excess cash the super-rich have in hand now that their tax rates have dramatically declined. In the 1970s the marginal rate on those with incomes above $3 million (in today’s dollars) was 70 percent. Today, the effective rate on the 400 richest Americans is 16 percent, according to the most recent IRS data.
The wonderful thing about putting your money in a hedge fund (or managing one) is that the income you get from it is not taxed as income (say, officially at the rate of 35 percent). Instead, it is treated as a business investment, something that’s good for the economy and that we need to encourage through a low tax — a “capital gain.” The tax rate on capital gains is 15 percent. This is one reason that Warren Buffett can say that he pays a smaller percentage in taxes than his secretary.
Read more at Huffington Post
Les Leopold is the author of “The Looting of America.”