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Brett Arends's ROI

Nov. 23, 2021, 3:17 p.m. EST

Congress loves rich dead people

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By Brett Arends

Joe Biden and the Democrats on Capitol Hill have backed away from some earlier plans to hike estate taxes on rich dead people. More’s the pity.

The problem with those earlier proposals isn’t that they went too far. It’s that they didn’t go far enough.

If these people had any nerve they wouldn’t just tinker with estate taxes. They’d send them back to where they were before 2001. Before they got slashed by Bush and Trump, in a big giveaway to rich corpses.

Back in the 1990s, federal estate taxes kicked in around $600,000 and the rates went up to 55%.

Yes, they were terrible days…when communism stalked the land, and the people groaned under such oppressive taxation that we’d never had it so good, and the stock market went through the roof, real wages boomed, and the economy grew by more than 4% a year, or about twice as fast as it does now .

Oh, the humanity!

No, I’m not suggesting this because I like taxes. I’m suggesting it because I don’t. I dislike taxes so much that I would much rather pay them when I’m dead than while I’m alive and still using the money. Once I’m 6 feet under I’m not going to miss it. Take whatever you want.

Opponents of estate taxes have tried labeling it a “death tax.”

OK. I’ll bite. By all means, let’s call it a “death” tax. Or, even better, a dead tax. A tax on the dead.

My dad died back in the 1990s and he paid these taxes, and guess what? He didn’t feel a thing. He was already gone.

New data from the Internal Revenue Service show that estate taxes generated a paltry $9.3 billion in revenues in 2020. The richest 1% of Americans own one third of all the money in the country , but fewer than one-fifth of 1 percent of the dead pay any estate taxes whatsoever.

It tells you something that rich dead people carry more weight in Congress than living members of the middle class. Do they have a lobbyist on K Street?

When I saw the latest IRS data I immediately pulled out a double-backed envelope and did some quick calculations.

In 2000, the IRS reports, the estate tax raised $24 billion. Since that time, according to official data, consumer prices have climbed about 60% . Gross domestic product has jumped 130% . And according to the Federal Reserve, the net worth of U.S. households has tripled.

Yes, indeed. Our collective household wealth was around $40 trillion in 2000, says the Fed. Most recently the figure was $123 trillion , or almost exactly three times as much.

So even if the estate tax revenues had just risen in line with household wealth over the past 20-plus years, today they’d be raising three times as much as in 2000, or $72 billion.

That would be a net gain to the Treasury of $63 billion — which, incidentally, works out around $360 for each of the 175 million worker bees currently paying into Social Security.

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