Thursday, June 19, 2003

I see where the House has passed another bill repealing the Estate Tax, but that the New York Times says that it lacks the 60 votes needed in the Senate for passage. According to the New York Times article, the Democrats accused the Republicans of trying to starve the government (an already constant theme of my blog site), and the Republicans accused the Democrats of trying to make it impossible for family businesses to stay together.

I think of my pleasant trips to Newport, and to Delaware, and up the Hudson Valley, and of course to the Metropolitan Museum, and I wonder, where would my leisure time be without the estate tax?

My (mistaken?) understanding is that trying to make it impossible for family businesses to stay together from generation to generation was perhaps the fundamental American value. I thought it came to Jamestown with all those second sons who had to leave England because the English inheritance laws froze them out. I thought that England passed those laws in order to insure that the aristocracy would not be broken up.

The American point was that people should not become wealthy through inheritance, but through their own efforts. I thought the point was to avoid an American aristocracy. Because that is the point, the estate tax should really be off to the side of the sort of debate about taxation in general, and should really be about philosophies of inherited wealth and aristocracy.

You don't even need to give the money to the government, because if preventing aristocracy is the point of the estate tax, you could do what is traditionally done, and settle out with the estate, and just take a Newport vacation home or two. This way I have someplace to go sightseeing.

I guess the surprising conclusion is that when it comes to the estate tax, Democratic complaints about starving the goverment of money are as off the mark as Republican complaints that family businesses are being broken up. I agree that if you can't afford large summer homes in Newport or Maine, you should not be subject to the estate tax. I also agree that the government should not be using the estate tax to balance the budget.

However, the current Republican notion that the unfettered accumulation and transfer of wealth is a traditional American value that should be supported by law is just not so. And why the Democrats are so afraid of reminding people of that fact ...and why the supposedly more egalitarian House of Representatives should be leading the charge on this .... (well, I'm just an old blogger)