Photo: KSP/ IG

You can’t take it with you.

What do you care what happens to all your wealth after you die, really? You’ll be dead. The living can use it, and you can’t. It’s asinine to subjugate the needs of living to the wishes of those who have already passed away. Dust to dust, and the estate tax up to 100%.

If the Republican Party has its way, the estate tax—what very rich people pay when they die—will go to zero. Currently, an individual can pass on up to $5.5 million tax-free, and then you pay 40%. Even in the best case scenario, Republicans will likely find a way to substantially reduce the tax and/ or raise the exemption when their tax cut package is ready to be signed. Were the estate tax to fully disappear, as all of these “fiscal conservatives” would prefer, the richest families in America would save tens of billions of dollars each. That is money that would not go into the public till. No estate tax means it’s far easier to build up dynastic wealth that persists over many generations, furthering inequality and going a long way towards entrenching a permanent class of heirs and heiresses who wield vast financial and political power for no good reason except luck of birth.

Anyone who wants to repeal the estate tax is your enemy. Don’t be fucking fooled.

Instead, we should be moving in the exact opposite direction. When you die, your wealth reverts to the public. It can be used to pay for roads and bridges and disaster relief and Social Security and Medicaid and education and childhood food programs and all of the other things that we as a society all need. Hell, if you really want to make it politically palatable, earmark estate tax revenues for only the most popular government programs. That’s fine. Make the subways work! Make the subways free! Free school lunches! Free state college! Free homeless shelters! Etcetera. Make the benefits of transferring private wealth to the public easy for everyone to see. We’re not monsters here. We’re trying to help the maximum number of people. From the perspective of the public good, there is no reasonable argument against this. It promotes equality of opportunity and helps to prevent the very sort of overaccumulation of power that undermines our democratic ideals. And just to cater to our nation’s collective fantasy that we each harbor of one day becoming rich, keep a little exemption. You can give a million bucks to your kids. That’s fine. No kid needs, or deserves, more than that anyhow.

Advertisement

The Republican cries of dismay on this topic seem somewhat inconsistent. We tell poor people to work their way up with pure grit, but we tell rich people that their right to produce a century’s worth of wastrel heirs who never have to work a day in their lives is a sacrosanct matter of freedom. Hmmm. In reality, a 100% estate tax would be a great motivator for rich people to donate all of their wealth to charity before they die. At least then they would get to bask in the narcissism of it all. This would be infinitely preferable to our current system in which rich people donate all of their wealth to offshore tax shelters.

You worked hard? You made good investments? You got real lucky, and you got real rich? Great. Enjoy it while you can, and then rest secure in the knowledge that when you’re gone, all of the proceeds of your luck or labor—justified and unjustified alike—will go towards the public good. That’s something for you to feel good about as you pass away, even if you were a real bastard most of the time.

Imprison the Walton family until this becomes law.