Viewpoint: The estate tax is dead! Long live the estate tax!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

In June, the Senate voted against repealing the estate tax forever. The current policy stands: the estate tax will go away in 2010 -- and then come back again in 2011. And at United for a Fair Economy we are saying as we savor the victory, may it live on!

Our economy now has the biggest divide between the have-too-muches and the rest of us since the 1920s. While most of us feel increasingly insecure about our futures and those of our children, the top 1 percent of wealth-holders have an average net worth of more than $10 million.

Some of the very wealthiest of the top 1 percent are also the very greediest: they pushed the hardest for estate tax repeal. These are not people who, as they would like us to think, worked hard for their money. The richest Americans got between one-half and two-thirds of their wealth through inheritance, according to the Christian Science Monitor. A recent report from UFE and Public Citizen reveals that, of the 18 families who were very active in using their money to preserve their multi-millions, most have been wealthy for generations; only five still include the family member who earned the family fortune.

Their methods are as sneaky as pickpockets. The super-wealthy hired professional message spinners who re-named the estate tax the "death tax," planning to fool the public into thinking that all of us would owe the tax.

These are people who are promoting un-American ideals. They want to re-establish an aristocracy based on accidents of birth; they do not think that hard work is what should be rewarded in our tax code.

But you can't fool all the people all the time. Through patient public education and a concerted lobbying campaign, UFE and many other organizations have stopped the nonsense. Bill Gates countered the "death tax" with calling the estate tax the "gratitude tax," since those who have the most wealth are those who have benefited the most from what the U.S. has to offer. And finally, after five years of assault on this most progressive of taxes, ordinary Americans, as they did in the Gilded Age, turned against those who have too much, and still want more.

No one should be able to use the opportunities our society creates to hoard wealth and create family dynasties whose goal is to avoid the costs of being an American.

We have not seen the last of the dirty one-and-a-half-dozen. While permanent repeal has been stopped, these super-wealthy families will continue to push for unacceptable "compromises" that shift their tax burdens onto the rest of us. UFE will continue to work for reasonable reform that preserves the fundamental framework of the estate tax -- and the substantial revenue it generates -- for the good of all Americans, not just a privileged few.

Meizhu Lui is executive director of United for a Fair Economy, a not-for-profit group in Boston that fights against economic inequality.

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