"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Friday, June 23, 2006

Death and Taxes 

The other day, I happened to be visiting a Wal-Mart store. This is not something which I make a habit of doing - I think it may have been the first time I actually spent money at a Wal-Mart store - and I have some very bad feelings about Wal-Mart, despite their having been the only company who would hire my father after thirty-some years in retail (he needed the health insurance). And in any case, I found the store very difficult to shop, with terribly confused merchandising and a dearth of clerks on the floor (you can't expect them to keep their prices low and still hire a reasonable number of employees, what with the minimum wage being an onerous $5.15 an hour).

But that's not what I'm here to talk about.

I'm here to talk about the estate tax, which is apparently on life support. The subject brings to mind my visit to Wal-Mart, because (a) the various members of the Walton family are among the most vocal opponents of the estate tax, of course, and (b) after my brief visit, I notices a signature gatherer asking people to sign a petition urging repeal of the tax. This, of course, struck me as incredibly funny. I would wager that none - not a single one - of Wal-Mart's customers needs to worry about paying any estate tax. The petition should have been entitled "Please Raise My Taxes So That Paris Hilton Doesn't Have to Pay," but of course there were a number of people who had already signed. This does not surprise me - in the course of my practice, I have learned that many of the clients who come to me are terribly worried about estate taxes even though they are nowhere near having to pay any.

Anyway, I thought about all of this as I read Max's post about the real tax burden on middle-class American families - not the estate tax, but the birth tax. American children today are born with a crushing tax load already due, courtesy of our generation's profligate deficit spending - and, unlike the estate tax, the "birth tax" falls disproportionately on the poor and the middle class. My own son, born in 2001, inherited a "birth tax" of about $22,000. I fear that estate taxes, on the other hand, are the least of his worries, considering that his "estate" at this point consists mostly of an old Vespa motor scooter and some bitchin' albums from the 70's.

I wonder how the nice folks at Wal-Mart would feel if I started gathering signatures at their door urging repeal of the "birth tax?" I doubt that I would get very far.




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