Jewish World Review Sept. 6, 2000 / 5 Elul, 5760
I heard this, and rageórage from the depths of my American soulówelled up in me. It just struck me as fundamentally wrong.
Naturally, the president likes it and last week vetoed a 10-year phase-out plan for the tax, just as heíd promised he would. But the issue is a hotly contested one, and will resurface with the next administration.
I myself am heir to no oneís grand estate. My parents are immigrants who lived a middle-class life and now live even more modestly as retirees. Iíll never inherit more than a negligible estate, tax-wise.
Now, election-time tax issuesóor anytime tax issues--have never caught my attention. I donít know from taxes. They confuse me. But this was simple enough to understand. And I understood it to be unjust.
For that reason, a recent front-page headline on the Forward newspaper caught my eye. It read: "Loss of Estate Tax Could Cost Charities Billions." The article defended the 86 year-old gift tax on inherited estates as a motivator of the very rich to make charitable bequests.
In other words, donít repeal the law, because itíll eliminate a perk that comes with robbing the rich.
The piece went on to criticize Republicans for portraying the death tax as "an injustice that affects the family of every hard-working person who dies" rather than the estimated two percent of Americans whom it actually affects.
So if only two percent of the people are getting robbed, I suppose that makes it ok.
Ah, canít you just see the Feds already salivating over the thought of Bill Gates kicking the bucket? His heirs will have to sell off all their Microsoft stock just to pay the taxes. Imagine the jubilation! Itís a wonder they havenít ordered a hit on the guy yet.
But it's not just Bill Gates. Itís not even just family farms and small businesses. I have several friends, all from separate families, who are heirs to estates of one to two million. And I know people who have even more such friends. Not to mention all those law firms I temp at, where crews of attorneys regularly pull 48-hour shifts. I would guess their estates to reach at least two million before theyíre through. It certainly feels like more than 2% of the population.
Critics like the Forward condemn the move as an assault on a more fundamental principle: progressivity in the federal tax code.
"Taxes that fall heaviest on those with the most money have been a basic tool of government for a century," read the Forward. Similarly, the New York Times called the progressive tax on income "a cornerstone of 20th Century American society."
Sticking it to the rich is a cornerstone of 20th Century American society? Robbing the rich is a progressive idea? Joseph Stalin was also considered a progressive idea. In fact, the same newspaper that brought us the image of Uncle Joe wants us to keep redistributing private wealth. Our red flags should be going upóno pun intended.
As recently as the Carter Administration, the highest tax bracket was paying 70% of its income to the government. Under F.D.R. it was 90%. If that isnít highway robbery, nothing is. Itís not just the ninety or seventy percent figure; itís the very concept. Taxes by nature hit harder on those who earn more. Thatís how percentages work. The rich do pay a proportionately larger share of the taxes as it is. Weíre asking them to pay a disproportionate share.
So should they pay a higher sales tax too? Sure! The IRS could issue everyone a card identifying their household income, and cashiers will have a corresponding tax chart to refer to. For that matter, I think a Big Mac should cost me only $2, but rich folks $45.
Because taking money from the rich can only be a good thingóeven if it gets lost in politiciansí pockets or bureaucracy on its way to "The People."
I seem to be missing this age-old tradition of contempt for the rich, shared by so many of my fellow human beingsóand by big government (outside its own ranks, of course). I donít know about others, but my parents raised me not to look into other peopleís wallets.
While I admit Iím not particularly an advocate for the poor or the uninsuredóthose heavily touted heroes of the Democratic Conventionónor am I an advocate for the rich. Iím an advocate for whatís fair. In this case it puts me in the position of defending the rich, which isnít exactly politically correct.
But eliminating the estate tax isnít a vote for the rich or against the
poor. Itís a vote for a just
08/14/00: Dangers in do-goodness