Sunday, September 18, 2005

Death and Taxes

I read an op-ed piece written by Bill Gates Sr. and Chuck Collins about the proposed repeal of the estate tax. The debate about the estate tax is very interesting. Pro-estate tax people, like Gates Sr., often cite statistics about how most Americans will never accumulate enough wealth to be subjected to the estate tax. This is true, but I think it's missing the point. The point is, should the government be taxing the estates of the wealthy? Should I manage to amass a significant fortune, I don't plan on leaving my heirs with a big pile of cash so they can sit around and do nothing. I think a lot of people share this sentiment, but I don't know if this is something that the government should try and legislate. Besides, the wealthy can always manage to find ways around the tax code and unless the tax rate is raised to 100%, people with large enough fortunes will still be able to leave significant sums of money to their heirs.

Gates Sr.'s claim that the repeal of the estate tax would cripple our nation's charitable sector strikes me as somewhat alarmist. It may be true that some people donate large sums of money to charities to avoid paying estate taxes, but I think the majority of wealthy donors would donate their money even if there was no estate tax. Gates Sr.'s saves his best point for the end. I agree that there are far too many successful people who say "only in America" out of one side of their mouth while bristling at the suggestion of paying taxes to cover the expenses that it takes to make keep our economic engine running. Which brings me to my final point, I hate debates about taxation. We've gotten to the point where candidates can promise to slash taxes and maintain or increase the level of government services with impunity. I'm no fan of excessive taxation, but it does take money to keep this place running smoothly. In the estate tax debate as with all tax debates, I will that there were more people in the government and in society looking at the big picture so we might be able to reach an informed decision.

1 comment:

MDS said...

Your last point is exactly right. The government has to acquire money somehow. How could anyone oppose taking it from the dead instead of the living? People who oppose the estate tax are like people who oppose organ donation. The estate tax is by far the best of all taxes, and it's stunning to me that the super rich have managed to completely pull the wool over the eyes of the average person to the extent that huge numbers of middle-class people oppose the estate tax.