Friday, April 6, 2012
This article examines the ascendancy of wealth redistribution as the policy underpinning the federal estate tax through the lens of sociology and argues that, by attempting to ensure equal access to the American dream by penalizing only those who have fulfilled its promise, the federal estate tax places fundamental American values in irreconcilable conflict. The reason that the current system does not work, I argue, is rooted more in history and sociology than it is in economics. The solution is not necessarily the repeal of the federal estate tax. Nor is the solution replacing the estate tax with an inheritance tax, an accessions tax or taxing inheritances as income, as proposed by other commentators. The estate tax plays — or should play — an important role in ensuring vertical and horizontal equity in our federal tax system. Perhaps more importantly, it also has the potential to provide a safety net of revenue during times of exigency — such as that currently faced by our nation. In order to achieve these goals, however, we must first correctly recognize the fundamental problem with the current system. When the history of the tax is examined from a sociological and historical vantage point, the real problem is clear.