(Forbes) In 2010 Steve Schwarzman, who runs the private equity and hedge fund behemoth the Blackstone Group, compared efforts to raise taxes on private equity and hedge fund managers with Hitler’s invasion of Poland. Schwarzman ended up apologizing for the inappropriate analogy, but on the morning after the House of Representatives voted for a Senate-passed deal to avert the fiscal cliff, it increasingly looks like hedge funds and private equity managers have won their war in Washington.
The bottom line is that hedge fund and private equity moguls will continue to be taxed relatively lightly after the new fiscal cliff legislation. Carried interest will continue to be taxed as long-term capital gains for hedge fund and private equity managers. The top rate for capital gains has increased to 20% from 15%, but given that the top capital gains rate did not rise to 39.6%, most of the carried-interest benefit has been retained. That means that the rich performance fees hedge fund and private equity managers charge their investors—usually 20% of their investment profits—will continue to get favorable tax treatment.
The survival of the carried-interest tax break created by high-paid lawyers for some of the richest Americans is ironic given that President Barack Obama’s announced goal in the fiscal cliff negotiations was to tax the richest Americans more. Now, there will be some rich lawyers and dentists who are paying higher taxes while the far richer hedge fund and private equity moguls the lawyers and dentists work for will experience less of a tax hit. Nobody will cry for the hip surgeon who is being taxed more, but there are no hip surgeons on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans. There are, however, 31 hedge fund managers on the Forbes 400, representing 8% of the nation’s wealthiest individuals. There are another dozen or so private equity guys on the list, too.