Estate tax stories

In my other life, I obsess about tax policy. And because being called “plug-ugly ignorant” by a member of “the inbred, chinless, mercifully shrinking group known as the British upper class” is cleansing to the soul, sometimes I get going in blogland, too.

If you don’t know why today’s defeat of the permanent estate tax repeal is a cause for celebration, educate yourself. (Thanks to GMB for the news.)

What makes [the campaign to repeal the estate tax] so fascinating is that it is a mystery story. The mystery is this: how did the repeal of a tax that applies only to the richest 2 per cent of American families become a cause so popular and so powerful that it steamrollered all the opposition placed in its way? The estate tax was the most progressive part of the American tax system, because it rested on the principle that the wealthy few, if they were not willing to bequeath their money to charity, should not be permitted to pass it all directly to their heirs. It had been on the statute book for nearly a hundred years, and throughout that time it had been generally assumed that there was widespread support for the idea that unearned wealth passed between the generations, creating pockets of aristocratic privilege, was not part of the American dream. Because it was a tax that so obviously took from the relatively few to relieve the burden on the very many, there seemed no possibility that a sufficiently large or durable coalition of interests could ever be formed to get rid of it. Yet during the 1990s just such a coalition came into being, and not only did it hold together, it grew to the point where the clamour for estate tax repeal seemed irresistible. What Graetz and Shapiro want to know is how the architects of repeal got so many different people on board. How they stopped them falling out among themselves, once it became clear that they could not possibly have the same interests in common. And why the hell the Democratic Party didn’t do more to stop them.

Update: But see Jennifer Howard’s “Book Prize Is Yanked From Yale Professors Over Author’s Role in Graduate-Student Labor Dispute,” about the book reviewed in the LRB article quoted above.


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