There’s been so much exciting campaign news (Trumptastic) overlapping with so much disaster (terrorism avalanche) that it’s easy to forget that we used to get together here and discuss boring things like policy and good governance. In an effort to pause from the circus, here’s a short look at what we might expect from each of the candidates on a subject which has long been near and dear to the hearts of fiscal conservatives: the Death Tax. Democrats love it and Republicans hate it. Of course, in a strange election cycle such as this one, who knows what’s coming?
The Tax Foundation has been examining the question and found that of the three theoretical remaining candidates (because Sanders hasn’t officially bowed out yet) we’re seeing pretty much the spread you would expect in a more “normal” election year.
Donald Trump proposed eliminating the estate tax, which would remove distortionary incentives from the tax code and increase economic output.
Hillary Clinton proposed reducing the estate tax’s exemption and slightly increasing its rate, from 40 percent to 45 percent, which would increase the distortionary incentives of the tax, reducing economic output, but also increase the revenues from the tax.
Bernie Sanders proposed reducing the estate tax’s exemption and substantially increasing rates, to a graduated system with a top rate of 65 percent. This would substantially increase the distortionary incentives of the tax, greatly reducing economic output.
There’s a seriously wonky analysis of the base and marginal rates at the link with an explanation of how changes to the estate tax affect both individuals at different levels of income and wealth and the economy as a whole. If you have any interest at all in this still very relevant subject, I suggest giving it a look.
But even beyond the chalkboard analysis of the underlying economics, there’s something fundamentally wrong with the entire idea of a death tax. Several things in fact. One of the biggest is the fact that, much like capital gains taxes, they wind up taxing the income of taxpayers twice, with the second bite being potentially crippling if you’ve done well for yourself. Upon your death, your money is not being “spent” to purchase something, nor being paid out in wages or as some sort of bonus. It’s the wealth you accumulated over a lifetime – and already paid taxes on – which you were gathering to assure the future welfare of your family or other assigned beneficiaries. You’ve earned the money and contributed your share to the public weal. Since the money is staying inside your castle, having Big Brother come in to scoop another large helping out before your spouse or children can ensure their own security isn’t just double taxation… it’s insulting.
The tax man also comes at precisely the wrong time. You run into enough grief and potentially expensive complications when you lose your family member. (This is particularly true if there were extensive medical costs associated at the end.) That’s exactly the wrong time for someone to come along and hand you a huge bill.
The death tax is simply wrong and it doesn’t need to be increased, kept the same or even slimmed down. It needs to be eliminated.