Friday, April 15, 2005

estate rape

Close, but no cigar. Our illustrious representatives in Washington almost acted responsibly this week. The question was: to repeal, or not repeal…the estate tax, which is nearly 50% of the value of that which is bequeathed. The argument for the continuance of this confiscation is, quite simply, the heirs don’t need it as much as those whom the politicians seek to endow. According to Matthew Yglesias, Better to tax inheritance since the actual concern is that I'll give $10 million to my son and he'll be rich, rich, rich without ever having worked.

If I understand this, at death, one’s wealth somehow becomes public property. What? Surely the collectivist types haven’t considered the implications of such an absurd theory. If an economy were constructed using such a framework, then sweat would be invaluable and the intellect…useless. Do our Leftist friends not extol the virtues of labor, while excoriating the “lucky” rich? It’s nothing short of an inverted view of reality; the notion that distinction by way of excellence is bad, while elevating mediocrity to a level beyond its natural state. Misplaced compassion can be the only explanation for this irrational thesis.
I might be an earnest, hardworking dude who works in the store. And somebody might die and give the store to me. The store may be worth millions and millions of dollars. If so, I ought to pay tax on it. Why? Because I've just inherited millions and millions of dollars, that's why. That I'm earnest and hardworking, and that my riches came in the form of a valuable store rather than a heaping plate of gold matters not a whit. What about those sad folks forced to sell the family business? Don't cry for them. Here you are, you inherit a store worth $X. You owe $Y in taxes, with Y being less than X. So you are "forced" to sell the store, and accept "only" $X-Y as your inheritance. Note that X is a figure in the millions, and Y a small proportion of X. This is a very good problem to have, abstracting away from the fact that someone you love has probably died and this is probably a bigger concern of yours that the tax bill. This is, in other words, a non-problem. The government ought, perhaps, to facilitate some kind of lending arrangement so that people who prefer to keep the store and pay the tax down over time out of operating revenues can do so.
How can one possibly convince those that actually believe this drivel of the vacuous nature of their position? Would they consent to the theft of their possessions, if they were left with a pittance? Not likely. I suspect that, for Yglesias and his ilk, utilitarianism is great, provided that they are on the receiving end. The offering up of a sacrificial lamb is prudent, as long as it’s not me.
The last point, however, is the first in importance. Liberals should not mistake getting self-righteous about estate tax repeal for having a serious program to combat inequality or reduce poverty in America. Repealing the estate tax is dumb. Putting it back in place would be a good idea. But a serious program to combat inequality or reduce poverty would be better. Resentment, my comrades, will only get you so far.
Ah, now it all makes sense. The reduction of poverty and inequality is the highest moral principle. Therefore, it is justified to use coercion to relieve successful person A of his earned assets, for the purpose of giving said property to unsuccessful person B. In this scenario, the paternalistic government bestows unearned assets upon its dependant children. But this is different from conventional inheritance, in that those bothersome private property rights are not regarded. Now do you see how much more ethical egalitarianism is? When will you intransigent individualists learn to be socially responsible? Is there no justice?