Permanent repeal of the death tax is dead, at least for the moment, but something else is very much alive and well — all the rights-denying, freedom-squeezing, fiscally upside-down arguments used to justify the execution.
A favorite one is that the rich get rich only with the help of what the government provides — rule of law and infrastructure, for instance — and owe something back, as if the victims had not been paying taxes throughout their lives and as if government is all good and not at all bad.
As necessary as the federal government is, it is a terribly wasteful enterprise that continues to grow bigger at the expense of ever less liberty. While it makes prosperity possible, its excesses decrease the amount of prosperity that will occur, and those who suffer are not just the rich. They are also the poor, whose hopes for independent, productive, middle-class lives depend more on a thriving economy than redistributionist programs that have proven themselves futile and worse.
But, say the defenders of the tax, the revenues it produces are crucial in the fight for budgets that are not so wildy out of balance as now. Wrong. The sensible, sane way to get balance is not to deprive the economy of the fuel it needs to continue its growth, but to cut spending that is out of control.
The tax-the-dead crowd also contends that large inheritances corrupt beneficiaries who go on to live pointless lives contributing nothing to society.
I don’t know about you, but I have met people from wealthy circumstances who were industrious, and I have met people from modest circumstances who were bums. Even if it were likely that inheriting a sizable hunk of change in mid-life would turn Dr. Jekylls into Mr. Hydes, it’s hardly the government’s business to arbitrate such issues.
To think differently is to assume we morally amiss, stupid individuals are incapable of making our own decisions; it is to embrace a state on the way to being exhaustive in its reach.
And the tax won’t destroy large fortunes — an envious, resentful, larcenous desire to beginwith. The tax amounts to 46 percent of everything above $2 million for an individual and $4 million for a couple. Bill Gates has $43 billion. If he can leave just half of that behind, his family could continue to be filthy rich for endless generations.
The people who get hurt most by the tax are those of far less wealth — sometimes people who worked hard, scrimped and invested and were able to accumulate substantial savings by the end of their lives.
A tax that says you can’t dispose of what you earned in any decent way that you see fit erodes the principle of private property fundamental to free market systems. It is something else, too: a right essential to human dignity. If you don’t believe that, why stop at picking on the wealthiest among us? Take goodly portions of anything of monetary value left by all parents to their children, however little it is.
Despite a defeat in a recent Senate repeal effort, there’s plenty of time to act, and Congress should have at this issue again.
Decades ago, I was a reporter in Albany, N.Y., working for a newspaper at the foot of a hill that could be ascended only with huffing, puffing, knee endangerment and sweat unless you employed a trick.