Time to make straight out a point I've made sidways before. The estate tax. This is the year we don't have one; next year it is due back. At the moment, we're on track for the 2001 level of 55 percent with a $1 million exemption. But I wouldn't count on it: the administration is talking about 45 percent with a $3.5 million exemption, while conservatives think 35 percent and $5 million might be nice. Wonk Room provides a crisp summary of the costs and benefits--more precisely the beneficiaries--of the proposals.
I can't improve on their analysis but I want to focus on another point. When we talk about "conservatives" here, the party of honest toil, the party that lies awake night sweating beads over the possibility that some union auto worker, some welfare mother some--hell, some derelict under the bridge--might get the "wrong incentives" out of government policy, might be tempted to, you know, like "slack off."
And that's my point. If we accept the principle of "right incentives" then our only option is an estate tax that is confiscatory. Okay, not 100 percent of everything-maybe a dependency allowance that runs through, say, age 18 (but hey, you can work in most states at 15, 14--and are there still newsboys?). I suppose we could even allow further spending on education--but only those who prove they can profit from it, like say, students of refrigerator repair or call center maintenance; only for a C average (make that a B average); certainly not for critical studies of anything.
You think I jest? Listen, I've been around the campuses of half a dozen major private universities; I understand the tragedy of dependency. I know what it looks like to see our best and brightest lounging around the poolside or the polo field, like the bears at Yosemite with their butts obtruding from so many garbage cans. Actually, we've got the bears (and the welfare mothers) pretty much under control; all we need now is to give the same sort of treatment to the trust fund babies.
Do I believe what I just said? Nah, not really. I like giving money to kids. I have the great good fortune to be a little bit solvent, and if the economy doesn't go completely off the rails (!!!) I may actually leave something behind for them. Which would please me. Selfish on my part I know, a weakness, a guilty pleasure, but my socialist leanings are well known. I do concede that a serious incentive-oriented public policy would tolerate none of this softness.
Meanwhile, I'm looking for one, just one, of these incentive oriented Republicans willing to step up to the plate and call for an estate tax of 100 percent and an exemption of zero. Any takers?
No, I'm not holding my breath.