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The Estate Tax — Why I Support It

07.31.10

President Obama has extended unemployment benefits despite months of Republicans blocking such legislation under the guise that they’re actually saving us from ourselves.

They’ll have you believe that while people’s plight of being unemployed for over a year with no end in sight; not being able to make their mortgage payments; being forced to go on other government social programs to help pay for their kids’ lunches; losing their homes to foreclosures; and, moving in with other family members in cramped quarters to try to make ends meet is, yes, very tough to get through, to be sure (not that they have any idea since they’re giving themselves the entire month of August off), but it’s nothing compared to the trials and tribulations that will befall our children and grandchildren if we don’t suffer through poverty and unemployment without government assistance all in order to lower the national debt that was accrued during their party’s time in power.

And while they did this for the sake of being mindful of our deficit, they also suspended the estate tax for a year.  Now in doing so they not only helped the one group of people that need the least amount of government assistance: the rich; they also denied the government the crucial revenue that we need when the economy is struggling.  The revenue that could pay for the unemployment benefits, perhaps, or go toward stimulating the economy.

This strikes me as less about fiscal conservatism and much more like pandering to the 90 percent of Americans who earn only 50 percent of the nation’s income and scaring them into thinking that their children will be even worse off than we are now, all the while protecting the top 1% of Americans, who account for 24% of the nation’s after-tax income.  As if these families can really afford to worry about their unborn grandchildren while they’re busy trying to keep a roof over their children’s heads.

I agree with extending unemployment benefits; and I support an estate tax.

And here’s why: without it, the rich end up becoming the de facto royal family of America; the head of an unofficial caste system, in which you’re not necessarily unable to move up so much as a small, powerful group of extremely wealthy families maintain their grip on the nation’s income, and with that wield great political power and control; whose scions will never feel the fear of dropping down the social ladder, always held up by the ever-expanding wealth created by their ancestors regardless of how hard they work or their level of intellect and ambition despite their less-fortunate counterparts needing high amounts of all three to even have a chance at overcoming their financial handicaps; because it rewards luck instead of ingenuity, hard work, perseverance, intelligence, and the drive toward excellence, all of which were traits that this country was founded on and still claims to reward today.

Enrique at 411media.org opposes the estate tax.  In a blog of his from last week, he wrote:

I don’t mean to be obvious, but taking by force nearly half of a person’s legitimately accumulated wealth when they die is the kind of action that justifies a violent coup. It’s a fundamentally amoral policy, and an unjust constriction of individual freedom, rivaled only by the war on drugs in its sheer totalitarian manifestation.

He brings up some interesting points:

  1. First, being the crude oversimplification of how taxes work as having your money taken “by force.” Perhaps it only feels like it’s being taken by force when it’s nearly half of your money; although, at what point is it reasonable? If you base it on the GOP right now, 35% for families making over $375,000 is reasonable, but 39.6% isn’t.
  2. The notion that taxing someone’s estate after their death constricts upon one’s individual freedom makes little sense.  How can anything occurring after one dies infringe upon that person’s anything?  At that point, it’s merely a case of law and contracts.  The deceased doesn’t have to worry about worldly things such as freedom anymore.  So while those of us living might argue that it’s unfair — namely those beneficiaries hoping to get a bigger slice of the family pie — it’s not unfair to the one who has passed.
  3. This is the sort of thing that justifies a violent coup? This? Really? Not lying to the public to start an ill-funded war that has nearly bankrupted the country and caused thousands of Americans and countless more others their lives?  No — it’s that rich dead people can only keep 55% of their riches.  Must be nice being rich and so divorced from the reality of the other 99% of Americans that an estate tax would warrant you picking up your arms and overthrowing the government.
  4. I’d be curious to know what fundamental moral code this tax code breaks.

Although, I think the big objection I have is to Enrique’s argument that the government is forcibly taking money away from someone simply because they die.  The person dying has no use for money anymore, so the government isn’t taking money from that person.  That person earned their money (however legitimately depends I’m sure on each individual case as I can’t assume to know what line of business the deceased was in, nor I’m sure could Enrique) and had that money in their possession until they left this world.  It’s now going elsewhere.  To someone else or someones else.  And, unless you count being born into wealth, those people didn’t legitimately accumulate any of that money.

Without an estate tax, that money becomes a reward to the extremely fortune simply for being born. That’s it.  You were lucky enough to have been conceived by rich parents so here is your prize.  And it’s not like those benefactors won’t still be receiving a healthy amount of funds.  Being born into a wealthy family should be prize enough with all of the benefits that entails.  You’ve already gotten your head start, what you do from here should determine how much money you make through your actions, not through the action of birth.

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