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Jewish World Review April 30, 2001/ 7 Iyar, 5761

Jackie Mason & Raoul Felder

Jackie & Raul
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Consumer Reports

The Money joke -- MANY comedians feel that jokes about religion, incest, or money don't go over well. We agree about religion and incest, and will also add colitis to the list. However, there is one "money" joke that has been going on for decades. But who's laughing? The joke is on all of us, and it is not told by any comedian. The person who is playing the joke on us is our own Uncle Sam, and the name of the joke is "Estate Tax."

Your money is taxed when you earn it, and sometimes even before you earn it, if you have a business or company that pays tax on what it earns. Your money is then taxed again when you spend it, and if you have enough left over to put into a bank, the interest earned on that money is also taxed. If, after all of this, you don't buy any new shirts or get haircuts, and you still manage to have something left over to leave to your children, the government then taxes it once again -- the estate or death tax -- up to the tune of 55 percent.

The American public, even in the face of campaigns like "It's us poor working people against the millionaires" appears, in the polls, to be opposed to this tax, and, in fact, Congress voted it out of existence, only to be thwarted by President Clinton's refusal to sign the bill. It seemed, until recently, the only people who were in favor of the tax were the well-heeled and influential parasites -- the accountants, insurance salesman, financial planners and tax lawyers -- whose stock and trade is helping (with a great degree of success) very rich people avoid or minimize the estate tax bite. Suddenly, we find a group of billionaires, led by Buffett, Soros, and Gates, becoming quite vocal, and spending lots of money (hopefully not from any tax-exempt foundations) in opposition to the movement to end the estate tax.

The first question these billionaires should be made to answer, if they are going to have any credibility, is whether or not they themselves already have in place any schemes, be it by foundations, trusts, generation-skipping trusts, or contributions, to avoid, evade, or reduce what would otherwise be the effect of the estate tax on their vast wealth.

If, as we suspect, they cannot truthfully declare themselves free of any such maneuvers, then at worst they are simply hypocrites, like the guy who, once he gets past the board and is admitted into membership of the country club, tries to make it difficult for anybody else to become a member.

This billionaire dream team claims that estate taxes perform some sort of desirable social engineering (for other people). The only social engineering that the estate tax does is to discourage hard work. We, perhaps naively, believe that most people work hard so that after they have gone they can leave something to a loved one. Doesn't a high estate tax send out a message, "What's the point of working hard if the government is going grab your money anyway when you die?" In fact it suggests that you might as well waste all of your money before you die since no loved one will benefit from it anyway.

A major argument of the billionaire bunch seems to be that if the estate tax is abolished it will discourage people from making charitable donations, since charitable donations can now be deducted from a person's taxable estate.

On a moral level we don't believe the keys of heaven will be easily tossed over to people who give to charity only because they receive a deduction on their estate tax. But, of course, this sort of thinking is more in the province of people like Buffett, Soros, and Gates than it is of people we know, so we will withhold judgment. But one thing is clear. Under the present law these billionaire boneheads now are making you pay most of the costs of their testimonial dinners, foundations staffs, names on buildings etc. If the contributions were not made, the government would take its 55 percent. Therefore when a donation is made that is completely tax deductible, the government loses 55 percent of the money. If we are going to donate to charity, we would like to pick our own charity, and maybe it would be one without some billionaire's name on its door.

The truth is that businesses that have taken a lifetime to build have had to be sold, buildings of people in the real estate business have gone on the block, and family farms have been surrendered, all to pay the tax collector when the principal wage earner dies.

If the billionaire boobs were really so concerned about the future of this country and the welfare of its citizens, why don't they simply pay their workers more and sell their products for less?

JWR contributors Jackie Mason and Raoul Felder need no introduction. Comment on this column by clicking here.



© 2001, Jackie Mason & Raul Felder. A version of this article first appeared in The Washington Times