Donald Trump, the billionaire who’s the leading Republican candidate for president, is being called out as a hypocrite for branding hedge-fund managers as “paper pushers” who “pay no tax.”
Clifford Asness, head of hedge fund AQR Capital Management, says real estate developers like Trump routinely get favorable tax treatment.
“If Trump were truly courageous, he’d tell us about how tricky tax arguments, and a fair amount of cronyism, have motivated so many big real-estate transactions,” Asness writes in the Manhattan Institute's City Journal
. “He’d tell us about those of his colleagues who literally pay zero taxes and sometimes monetize tax credits.”
Trump has said in campaign speeches and interviews that as U.S. president he will look out for ordinary people while eliminating special privileges for the wealthy and politically connected. His official tax proposal hasn't been released yet.
“I want to save the middle class. The hedge fund guys didn't build this country. These are guys that shift paper around and they get lucky,” Trump said in an Aug. 23 interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“The hedge fund guys are getting away with murder.”
Asness, a Goldman Sachs alumnus whose firm oversees $136.2 billion
of investor money, says presumably Trump was talking about how hedge-fund managers pay levies on long-term capital gains, which are taxed at a lower rate than ordinary income.
“Defenders argue that this treatment is appropriate, as money is at risk, and beneficial, as it encourages investment,” Asness writes. “It’s consistent with the way employee-incentive stock options and professional partnerships are taxed.”
Asness concedes that most of his income is from fees for traditional asset management, not the “carried interest” that private-equity partnerships and hedge funds earn.
He also says the populist anger being stirred up by Trump and Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders is justified because the tax code “is riddled with complexity and cronyism.”
“But Donald, let’s keep our eyes on the prize here — making our tax code better and fairer — and give the demagoguery a rest,” Asness says.
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