In Defense of the Estate Tax

Bill Gates, Sr. is on a crusade. It may come as a surprise to many Americans to learn that Bill Gates's father has just written a book, and is lecturing to educate Americans about the value of the estate tax. That's right, the father of the richest American is fighting to make sure that his son does NOT get to keep all of his money when he dies.

And Bill Gates agrees with his father. As does William Buffet, famed American billionaire of Berkshire Hathaway fame, and Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve. Why would these men support a tax that has been labeled by conservative opponents as the "death tax"? Because they believe that it serves our democracy. In Paul Volcker's words:

"The unavoidable fact is that government has certain responsibilities. The discharge of those responsibilities costs money....we would be hard-pressed to find evidence that, compared with the alternatives, a reasonable estate tax significantly discourages work effort or innovation or savings....our traditional values -- our moral values -- should weigh heavily, in fact conclusively, on the side of some tax on exceptionally large estates."

Many Americans have been led to believe that taxes are bad, and this is a credit to the public relations war that Republicans have waged for the past thirty years. Using a mix of misleading rhetoric and populist phrases such as "smaller government," "fiscal restraint," "cutting bureaucracy," "double taxation" and "the death tax," Republicans have convinced many Americans that taxes are bad. In fact, some Americans have gone so far as to believe that income taxes are illegal and unethical!

We should thank men like Franklin Roosevelt who had the wisdom and courage to propose an income tax in the first place, to serve the greater good and to provide an anecdote to the disease of wealthy disparity. The first Gilded Age brought enormous amounts of wealth and power to the US, but only a small group of Americans enjoyed them. Roosevelt and others realized that a federal income tax was necessary to put people back to work and build a viable middle class, and insure a healthy democracy

We should thank men like Bill Gates Sr. who are willing to stand up in the face of national ignorance about the meaning of progressive taxation, so that future Americans will enjoy the benefits of a public society: decent schools, decent health care, and decent economic opportunity for everyone.

This is not the current state of affairs. More on this later.