TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, February 28, 2005

Graetz & Shapiro Publish Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight over Taxing Inherited Wealth

Inherited_wealth Michael J. Graetz (Yale) & Ian Shapiro (Yale) have published Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight over Taxing Inherited Wealth (Princeton University Press, 2005). Here is the publisher's description:

This fast-paced book by Yale professors Michael Graetz and Ian Shapiro unravels the mystery: How is it that the estate tax, which has been on the books continuously since 1916 and is paid by only the wealthiest two percent of Americans, was repealed in 2001 with broad bipartisan support? The mystery is all the more striking because the repeal was not done in the dead of night, like a congressional pay raise. It came at the end of a multiyear populist campaign launched by a few individuals, and was heralded by its supporters as a signal achievement for Americans who are committed to the work ethic and the American Dream.

Graetz and Shapiro conducted wide-ranging interviews with the relevant players: members of Congress, senators, staffers from the key committees and the Bush White House, civil servants, think tank and interest group representatives, and many others. The result is a unique portrait of American politics as viewed through the lens of the death tax repeal saga. Graetz and Shapiro brilliantly illuminate the repeal campaign’s many fascinating and unexpected turns—particularly the odd end result whereby the repeal is slated to self-destruct a decade after its passage. They show that the stakes in this fight are exceedingly high; the very survival of the long standing American consensus on progressive taxation is being threatened.

Graetz and Shapiro’s rich narrative reads more like a political drama than a conventional work of scholarship. Yet every page is suffused by their intimate knowledge of the history of the tax code, the transformation of American conservatism over the past three decades, and the wider political implications of battles over tax policy.

Joe Bankman (Stanford) gives the book an enthusiastic thumb's up:

Death By a Thousand Cuts is a marvelous book. I think of it as sort of a Moneyball for politics, with the role of Billy Bean played by Grover Norquist. The story of how Norquist and company pulled one over on the Democrats (and perhaps centrists of all stripes) is a great read. The book is certain to become a bible for inside-the-beltway readers, but it should be read by a very wide audience. The book changed the way I think about the politics of the estate tax debate. In fact, the book has changed my views about the politics of a number of related issues.

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