Three things in life are certain: Death, taxes, and the death tax?
For the third year in a row, the US House of Representatives has voted to repeal the ‘estate tax,’ a provision that entitles the government to almost half of a deceased person’s estate, provided the gross value exceeds $1.5 million ($3 million for married couples). Sympathetic House members call it a ‘death tax’ and want it permanently repealed, but the move has been blocked by the Senate since 2002. The law affects about 2 percent of Americans. In 1998 the tax levied $23 billion, just under 2 percent of the federal budget.
And to paraphrase a late-night cable talk show host, ‘“If you can’t tax rich, dead white guys, then who can you tax?’”
But we’re surprised at the extent of the debate and the heat contained therein. After all, this is a tax that not too many of us will ever have to worry about. But by presenting the issue as one of principle instead of a financial cause, the Republican-dominated House has, once again, persuaded a great number of people to argue against their own interests. Bearing in mind that exemptions are in place for family farms and businesses, we don’t see why hard-working Americans who struggle to meet their own tax obligations would care so much about the heirs of the extremely wealthy.
The truth is that the children of millionaires already have tremendous advantages over the rest of us. They generally go to better schools and are unburdened by student loans; their networks put them in position to get better jobs; they have opportunities to travel extensively and they seldom have to pay for their first cars or homes. If their inheritances get cut by half, chances are that they’ll probably make out all right.
And the dead millionaires shouldn’t mind so much either. For one, they’re dead. For another, they should want to give something back. Anyone who has accumulated over $1.5 million in a lifetime has surely reaped the benefits of American citizenship, has used the very structure and framework of this country to acquire wealth and has lived the example of the American Dream. You can still do it here, can still rise from poverty and obscurity to the highest echelons of power and wealth. And what greater tribute to the Land of Opportunity than to refresh its coffers with the spoils won here?
We admit that we generally find taxation a loathsome procedure and would prefer a system of fair tax, flat tax or even a national sales tax, but as long as the current system is in place we see nothing wrong with relieving the extremely wealthy of some of their burden. And because you definitely cannot take it with you, the smartest rich old geezers will spend it all before they’re done, and just as their bodies are buried beneath the earth, their money will return to general circulation, the source from whence it came.