Opinion

Put the death tax six feet under

Photo of Gayle Trotter
Gayle Trotter
Lawyer

Once upon a time, fiscal conservatives advocated a strategy known as “starve the beast.” The theory was that cutting taxes represents the best, perhaps the only, way to check rampant government spending.

The beast is the redistributive welfare state. Conservatives advocated starvation as the only credible means of counteracting the beast’s tendency to decrease the rewards of work and increase the benefits of loafing.

How quaint that all seems today. Now, instead of a weight-loss diet, the beast has its own government-sponsored ad campaign shilling for food.

Forget “starve the beast.” Today’s campaign brazenly demands that we “feed the pig.” The taxpayer-supported Ad Council and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants have teamed up to “encourage and help Americans aged 25 to 34 to take control of their personal finances.”

This unabashedly pro-pork campaign promises to “help you think through your spending and saving habits, identify ways you can start saving and commit to making changes that will reduce your debt and grow your savings.”

Here’s another idea to reduce debt and grow savings: Stop spending citizens’ tax dollars on ad campaigns telling them to spend less money. We promise not to waste our money on self-defeating ad campaigns.

“Feed the pig” aptly describes the federal government’s estate tax regime. When you die, the federal government will take your money and spend it on advertisements encouraging you to save more.

Even more insulting than the death tax itself is its supporters’ claim that it is necessary to reduce the budget deficit.

But let’s face it, the death tax has nothing to do with raising revenue. Federal gift and estate taxes represent less than 0.4 percent of total federal receipts.

So why have a death tax at all? When it comes right down to it, the tax is about social engineering and confiscatory wealth redistribution.

Death-tax proponents support confiscatory taxation of lifetime earnings in the interest of wealth redistribution. And what’s not to like about wealth redistribution? As Barack Obama told Joe the Plumber, “When you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

Everybody? In the short run, it’s certainly not good for the person whose property is taken away. Nor is it good for that person’s heirs. And, in the long run, it’s not good to reduce the rewards of hard work and increase the benefits of idleness, which is exactly what happens “when you spread the wealth around.”

In any case, since when is it fair to take one person’s rightful property and give it to someone else? “If someone builds something, it belongs to him, not the government,” says economist Kevin Hassett, whereas “an entitled government undermines liberty.”