America’s Most Effective Weapon Against the Rich

Inheritance is a civil right and not a natural right. Way back in 1898, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to take property by devise or descent is the creature of the law and not a natural right. The government had the absolute right to decide as to the terms upon which a person should receive a bequest or devise from another. Limitations on inheritance offer equality of opportunity. Taxing inheritance at the source is fairer than taxing income earned as a result of hard work and effort.

Estate tax legislation was first passed in 1916 as a response to the excesses of the Gilded Age. The objective was to shift the tax burden from the Midwestern and Southern states to the rich Northeastern states. The tax burden in those days was mainly in the form of tariff duties and excise taxes. The legislation was recognition that democracy was at risk if too much wealth and power was concentrated in the hands of a few.

One cannot deny the contribution of estate tax to the progressivity of the tax system. The estate tax is the most progressive of any of the federal taxes. The main objective of estate tax is to reduce inequality of wealth and income. It basically applies only to the rich.

Only the super rich stand to benefit from the repealing of estate tax. Without estate tax, billions of dollars in revenue would be lost. The revenue loss over the next decade could be over a trillion dollars. This, at a time of record deficit, could impose an unconscionable burden on future generations. The trade deficit is at a historic high of $61 billion and growing. There are no plans or methods to repay it. This can plunge the U.S. into a drastic economic depression at any time. To make up for this, the government will have to increase taxation or cut Social Security, Medicare, environmental protection and many other government programs which are essential for the overall development of the nation. Any cut or decrease in these programs would be unfair and life-changing to middle class Americans and to the needy, children, elderly, and disabled.

Estate tax also encourages contributions to charity. The present system of estate tax afford the affluent a way of reducing the size of their estates by making contributions to charity. In fact the system operates as an incentive to contribute to charity.

Opponents of the estate tax system harp that it has led to many middle-class Americans losing their estate because of the taxes owed. This has been proved wrong by a study conducted by an organization called United for a Fair Economy. When the exemption increases to $3.5 million in 2009, the share of estates taxed will be about 0.16%. Rest of the estates will pass to the heirs tax free.

Another favorite argument of the critics is that estate tax is a form of double taxation – the estate holder has already paid income taxes and property taxes. Estate tax is not a tax on the estate-holder. It is a tax on the heirs who inherit the estate as an unearned gift.

Repealing of the estate tax will only benefit the rich. Middle class Americans will end up paying more taxes to make up for the revenue deficit.

5 comments to America’s Most Effective Weapon Against the Rich

  • Raymond

    And since inception, did the estate tax achieve its main goal of reducing inequality and income? If not why not.

  • Dirk

    No less a philanthropist than Andrew Carnegie felt that estate taxes were necessary to secure government funding.

    But his reasoning was not so much to maximize government income as it was to allow maximum use of funds by the wealthy while they were alive as possible. His feeling- and it makes sense- is that if someone is so talented they can get rich, they must be equally talented at sharing that wealth in the most constructive way possible.

    Bill Gates seems to be making this case as well. His foundation has made major progress in Africa and has put a great deal of effort into education in this country as well- so effective that Warren Buffett has given control of his estate to the Gates Foundation.

    So, if given a choice between confiscatory taxation on the wealthy when they’re alive vs. when they’ve passed on, it seems an obvious choice.

  • Norbert Haag

    Quite frankly, I can not follow the argument, that inheritance is a civil right just because the Supreme Court – which is part of the state- says so.

    I could understand that the Supreme Court would declare that, by mere will the state decrees to confiscate part or the whole of the inheritance. This is sure possible because the state has the power to enforce such a law. Yet, the idea, that the state can, using it’s supreme court, simply declare that the “world is flat” doesn’t convince me at all.

    If a human being owns itself -which is a natural right- than it is free to do with his property, which includes everything this human being has justly accumulated, what he likes.

    A man/woman can sure trash his property, sell it or make it a gift for whomever he/she likes. If he/she decides to hand the property over to a heir, that is totally within his/her natural right.

    Denying this is denying that the natural right is natural. It follows, that there are no natural rights, but only rights granted by the authority. A point of view not new to the world, but surely not in sync with the goals and underlying beliefs of the American Revolution.

  • When I first read this post by G.L.C., my first reaction was, why are the rich being treated as enemies? After all, we only “use” weapons against those who intend to do us harm-at least, that’s my understanding.

    Raymond, you asked the right question-which should have been answered by someone who favors the estate tax.

    Now here’s another thought related to Dirk’s mention of Bill Gates. Now, instead of using much of that money for philantrophy, what if the Microsoft founder had instead taken most of his billions and invested a lot more of it in for-profit ventures such as biotechnology, renewal fuels, the next generation of computer technology, etc. Let’s assume, he was simply looking to cash in because he saw great opportunities in each of these sectors. Let’s say, much of this research paid off in major breakthroughs and now, Bill Gates is many times richer-with his wealth approaching half a trillion dollars!

    Meanwhile, world-wide food production has soared thanks to a new generation of genetically engineered crops. A host of life-threatening diseases such as AIDS and cancer are now much more treatable and pose less of a threat than they did in years past.
    Hybrid vehicles are getting 200 mpg with much lower emissions. The price of a barrel of oil has sank to $20-and OPEC is begging the U.N. for a bailout!
    Your average low-cost PC that’s being sold at $300 now has ten times the processing power of Intel’s fastest i7 processor!

    Let’s assume that Bill Gates deserved a lot of credit for what I just described-because he made the decision to fund more of this research knowing that he would rake in even more billions if he were to be successful in these other ventures.

    Hey, I’m not knocking his humanitarian efforts, but there are other ways of looking at things-especially when billions of dollars are involved.

    I am reminded of a famous quote by Adam Smith:

    It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

  • Dirk

    I’m not saying Bill Gates making “investments” in technology to combat AIDS or improve education without a profit motive is bad or good- he has put money into the kind of research you seem to think he can only invest in for a profit motive, which is not true.

    I am saying that allowing Bill Gates- a man talented and smart enough to create Microsoft- to make those investment decisions- as opposed to turn over that money while he is still alive to a bureacrat to make those decisions- is economically superior.

    But when Bill Gates dies, his intelligence goes with him, and to then ask for a portion of his remaining earnings to fund our government sounds reasonable to me.

    We are given rights by our Creator. One of those is to join together as civilized society and create laws (against murder, and theft, for example) and institutions (police, for example) for our common benefit. Our Constitution (like Jesus) certainly recognized this, as well as the right of our government to (forcibly) extract taxes.

    So the question is not if we have the ability, or should have the ability, to extract estate taxes- because under our Constitution, we do. The question is, should we, and how much? And I support the idea that it is economically superior to have at least a portion of taxes due upon death, rather than before.

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