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« Howard Kurtz: ‘Was Watergate bad for journalism?’ | Main | Congress travel scandal »

June 07, 2005

Comments

Carl

Just get your legislators to make a bill where the government takes it all away from them. Offer a bill where building wealth is a crime against the state. If you don't offer these laws and enforce them, how will you liberals get to the socilasm you want for all of us?

George

Taking money away from the rich just because they have it sounds about as unAmerican as you can get.

Estate taxes are not the answer. One answer is eliminating unfair loopholes. I'll give an example: the law that allows one to donate an item to charity and take a deduction for the appreciated value of the item (not the amount actually paid for the item). Buy a Rembrandt painting for $1 million, hang on to it for a few years, donate it to charity when the estimated value has risen to $5 million. You'll get a tax deduction that is actually larger than what you paid. The winner is some rich guy who didn't earn it; the loser is the federal government.

jj mollo

When you look back at history, the story has been a constant battle against the forces of aggregation. Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus noticed that the patricians were building huge estates at the expense of plebs. Farming with slave labor seemed unfair competition. When tried to reverse this illegal process, they were killed by the Senators who had been breaking the laws. When the remaining free farmers ran to the castles for protection from the barbarian hordes, the feudal lords turned them into serfs as well. After the Magna Carta, the mass of the aristocracy could at least be somewhat protected from the King's demands, but there was no real hope for the masses until the industrial revolution was far along. A strong middle class was necessary for the political concepts of freedom to mature. As soon as the middle classes could start amassing wealth, the upper classes have been looking for ways to take it back.

The distribution of wealth took generations. The undistribution will also take some time, but it is well under way. The wicked children of the wealthy will have their way eventually. The John DuPonts of the world can rail against the injustice of estate taxes, but it's not about justice, it's about greed and inequality.

George

Greed is when you want money that isn't yours; not when you want to keep your own money.

If I have a lot of money and every welfare crackhead wants the government to take my money so they don't have to work for it, who is the greedy one?

jj mollo

If I manipulate the markets to steal a dollar from every share of abc stock, making millions for myself in a legal way, am I less culpable than a crackhead who steals potted plants from your front porch? Guess who has a better chance of going to prison.

Some Egyptian, whose name I forget, came over to this country and worked his way up to exec levels. Got a job as CEO of Gigando HealthCare systems. Admirable individual. Horatio Alger story. He must have been a pretty good with the books. He drained all the grants and endowment money from a hundred years of bequests, and drove the business under. He is living very well today in the USA, playing golf on the nicest courses with his buddies, who I suspect profited by their friendship with him. A number of the great old institutions that he ran are now closed, leaving thousands of patients unserved in their former areas, not to mention unemployed staff.

I have not heard that anyone ever tried to prosecute him, though he might have done as much damage, all told, to this country as his 19 fellow arabs, perhaps for the same motives.

The drug war in this country is very destructive and expensive, creating endless numbers of crackheads. You should read M. Simon's Power and Control site on this topic.

You make more money than others do because you have a better education because you live in a certain place where people have more money than the average American, and somehow more state money gets spent on your school district than others in less affluent area. I think there are also cultural differences that add up to better jobs and better lives all around. You think yourself lucky to be the beneficiary of those cultural differences, do you not?

The fact is, some people who are assisted by the government are undeserving, though probably less than you imagine. But other people have unfair advantages that allow them to become more affluent. Do my lucky breaks accrue to my children and childrens' children? The rich are using cultural propaganda to make you believe that idea.

Frank Warner

Almost no one says we should tax the rich into poverty. Liberals generally argue that the rich should be taxed at a slightly higher tax rate because they can afford to pay the higher rate.

The highest U.S. income tax rate used to be 90 percent. Few paid it, but it was on the books. Now the highest tax rate is about 35 percent, whether the fat cat makes $320,000 a year or $320 million a year. It's only sensible to expect an individual who makes $320 million a year to pay a slightly higher percent in taxes.

If a millionaire makes more, the millionaire should keep more, but he also should pay progressively more in taxes, if only because, for each million more he makes, it is that much easier for him to pay. He (almost) won't miss it.

It's not a socialism-capitalism thing. In too many of today's political debates, socialism and capitalism imply excess (and strangely enough, both terms can be applied to Castro's monopoly in Cuba).

But if you ask, do government programs have a place, and do free markets have a place, the answer is yes. Every nation on Earth has a mix of public sector and private sector. (The real problem comes when the people have no say in deciding how much influence each sector should have in their lives. That's called dictatorship.)

Because every nation has some use for government programs, each nation has to tax its citizens to pay for them. A good democratic government provides and protects opportunities for its citizens to choose what to do with their lives, with the possibility of getting rich while they're at it.

Reasonableness. If some citizens are lucky enough do get filthy rich (and filthy richness always involves some luck), it's only reasonable to expect them to pay more taxes -- even at a higher percentage -- than the average taxpayers.

And once they are rich, the rich should not expect to be permanently rich, or that their families be eternally rich. Secret monarchists might want to lick Bill Gates' boots and crown him king, but we don't do that in America. We know society needs some churning action to be forever renewed.

A reasonably progressive income tax and a heavy estate tax keeps society moving. The poor can get rich. The rich can get poor. We're not stuck year after yaer with the same damn faces on the cover of Forbes.

One caveat: We know too well that targeting the rich can run wild. Beware. The worst atrocities of the 20th century were the result of criminal ideologues physically attacking the most successful of their societies.

In Germany, the Nazis attacked the Jews, in part because some Jews were very successful businessmen. The Nazis decided if Jews were successful, they must have cheated for that success. That idea opened the door to the Holocaust.

In the Soviet Union, the Communists attacked the "capitalists," in part because many of those free-market entrepreneurs were very successful businessmen. The Communists decided if capitalists were successful, they must have cheated for that success. That idea opened the door to the Gulags and, eventually, the Killing Fields.

Death and taxes. Fascism and class warfare have no place in a free world. Unfortunately, taxes do. The rich should pay more, and the filthy rich more yet.

George

jj:
So you are saying that the rich stole their money through market manipulation and cooking the books and so forth. And the rich never get prosecuted. Therefore, there should be an estate tax to get it back. Right?

Your argument is a red herring. You have completely avoided the subject at hand which is the question of whether or not estate taxes make sense or are just. I'm not supporting unfair market practices or corporate con men. My choice would be to put them in jail for a long time.

What you've got is a case of class warfare -- a hatred for a group of people who have done well. You try to rationalize that they are evil because, like any group of people, there are evildoers among them. This animosity is just another form of bigotry which is little different from racism and other forms of prejudice.


jj mollo

George,

I think that's the least charitable viewpoint you could take on my comments. If you want to have a productive argument, you should go the opposite way. Pick out the best points and try the clarify the murky.

I admit that I have an emotional response to this whole issue, but it has nothing to do with hating rich people. I have been, in my life, one or two steps removed from some very rich people and on familiar terms with some of the ordinary rich. I have seen very destructive, and sometimes cruel, behavior among the children of rich people, but most of the rich people I have knowledge of have been good people, better than average. Some have been very sensible as well. The very best understand that the money is a responsibility, not a privilege. The wise and kind use of large sums of money is the very best thing, I think, that people can do in this world. The upbringing of the rich is the most important task.

I believe in Capitalism very strongly. It is an extremely productive system that has brought security to millions and made happiness possible for them. Places where the governments impinge too much on the natural operation of Capitalism eventually suffer for these mistakes. I don't however, believe that any individual "deserves" a specified reward. I don't believe that anything "belongs" to you, except insofar as society is willing to follow a set of sometimes rigid rules. Society should protect and further property rights to the exact extent that these customs benefit society as a whole, and perhaps a little farther in order to foster a sense of justice, but the numbers should be monitored. After all, it is only a system among many possible systems, a tool to promote the welfare of the people. When measures of economic disparity begin to show growing inequality, then, I believe, actions need to be taken that will reverse this process.

Now, there are lots of pirates out there who do a lot of damage. They can wipe out the benevolent acts of generations. And the sad fact is that these people will corrupt other rich people and rich people in general will protect their own. There is a lot of disinformation generated by the pirates today in order to improve the "environment for business". There is often a lot of truth in what they say, but don't let them deny that it is basically self-serving. Even non-pirates have difficulty recognizing their own unfair advantages. It's human nature. Anything that requires effort or sacrifice seems to be someone else's problem. We're talking about people unaccustomed to effort or sacrifice to begin with. (And, by the way, I've already given at the office.)

jj mollo

All right, so I avoided the issue again.

Yes. I believe that the idea of an estate tax is fair. You can always argue the particulars. Is this particular estate tax fair? Congress likes to write loopholes into these kinds of bills in order to protect their friends. Do they think they are doing wrong? Probably not. The problem with any tax code is that the people with the most money have the greatest capacity to prevent government predation. This is a regressive force in the development of tax law which is understandable, but must be resisted. People who have less money are better for the economy because they turn it over faster, therefore measures should be taken to see that they have more, but in fact, these are the people who have the least ability to avoid taxes.

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