Death without taxes

Legacy for One Billionaire: Death, but No Taxes

I’ve stated before that I don’t think anyone really “needs” an income that is ten times more than the median income, much less a net worth that is a hundred thousand times the median. Nevertheless, I don’t think it is practical* for a government to seize excessive income or assets.

From a macroeconomic standpoint I don’t think it really matters. I’ll make an exception for the Austrian School idea that multiple individual participants in the economy end up making more rational choices than a few participants or a single government entity. Of course, that also argues against the economic utility of massive corporations and massively wealthy individuals.

Nevertheless, the case of Dan Duncan convinces me that when it comes to estate taxes, I’m against the whiners. If Duncan paid taxes when he earned his income, then the bottom line is that he gamed the system and made more money than they thought he could, so they should let his heirs keep the money.

“The ultrawealthy in this country will still be able to pass on enormous wealth to the next generation,” said Chuck Collins, who studies income inequality and has worked with billionaires like Warren E. Buffett and Bill Gates to promote an estate tax. Mr. Collins argues that the tax is a “recycling program for economic opportunity.”

But opponents, who label it a death tax, say it is unfair because it taxes the same income twice — once when it is earned and again when it is passed on to heirs.

I think income inequality is symptomatic of social priorities and the social intelligence of individuals and families who take advantage of those priorities. If social priorities change and we as a society decide to give up some income to help out others, that’s fine, and the government can provide a vehicle for that.

*The moral stance of a government policy is irrelevant. Government is amoral. Its purpose is to maintain peace and order, and to minimally encourage whatever activities are in the public interest, while mostly letting people do what they want. The questions of law and policy pertain to one’s understanding of peace, order, and the public interest, and have nothing to do with the morality of government action. On the other hand, in a democratic republic, each individual does make moral choices about which policies to support.
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