The cost of democracy

Newt Gingrich Republicanism is not dead. Last month the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill that would eliminate the estate, or inheritance, tax. Fortunately, the chances of the bill becoming law are slim. It is unclear what the Senate will do, and President Bill Clinton has vowed to veto the bill should it get to his desk later this year. Still, the issue had enough political potency to attract the votes of sixty-five Democrats, and George W. Bush, the presumptive Republican candidate for president, strongly supports the effort to end what so-called reformers call the "death" tax. It says something troubling about the state of our politics that inheritance taxes, in many ways the symbolic linchpin of the very idea of progressive taxation, are now under concerted attack. Repealing the estate tax is an idea that should be resisted on political, fiscal, and moral grounds. More than money is at stake.

Those urging that the tax be abolished argue that the dead shouldn’t be taxed and that, moreover, the assets involved have previously been taxed as income. They like to complain of double or even triple taxation. Abolitionists further contend that estate taxes place a debilitating burden on those who wish to pass on family farms or businesses to their children.

None of these objections bears up under scrutiny. First, the tax is not levied on the dead but on their estates and thereby...

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