What’s Next? “Death Tax” Repeal as Blow Against Inequality?

It’s obviously no surprise that proponents of the most egregiously inequality-producing measure the United States could take on any given day, a total repeal of inheritence taxes, want to hide the grossly regressive goals of their efforts by inventing some poster-children who seem more deserving than the one-tenth of one percent at the top of the income and wealth charts who are actually subject to federal estate taxes. Traditionally, that’s been “family farmers” or “small businesses.” But now and then these people try something a bit more imaginative: the claim that the “death tax” is harming African-Americans. Here’s the latest version of that howler, from Bernie Becker at The Hill:

Republicans seeking to repeal the estate tax have rolled out the endorsements of black business advocates who argue the levy is especially painful for minority entrepreneurs.

Harry Alford of the National Black Chamber of Commerce and Robert Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), separately argued in recent days that the estate tax is an especially bitter pill for minority business owners, many of whom only started getting successful in the last half-century or so.

“Full repeal of the estate tax would allow African Americans to pass the full fruits of their business success to the next generation and thereby laying the foundation for a permanent minority ownership class that can contribute to the economic growth and development of the United States economy,” Johnson, whose worth has been estimated at more than half a billion dollars, wrote to the House Ways and Means Committee last week.

Actually, Johnson’s been offering his services to the GOP on this topic for a long time, dating back at least to the campaign for W.’s tax package in 2001.

But I’m not sure he’s always put it this way: that untaxed inheritances are essential for upward mobility among African-Americans.

Now if Johnson came right out and said that birth privilege rather than hard work, talent, or innovation, is all too often where economic success in this country comes from, then we’d have something to talk about. I’m sure that would horrify his Republican friends, though.

It would not surprise me next to hear GOPers claim repealing the “death tax” as part of an agenda for addressing economic inequality. It’s another example of how the same damn agenda winds up being the “answer” to diametrically opposed questions.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.