Toward a Strong Death Tax

A friend reminded me yesterday that “[t]he estate tax is seen as the most ‘unfair’ federal tax,” as shown in a 2009 Tax Foundation survey, http://www.taxfoundation.org/files/sr166.pdf.  That happens even though only a tiny fraction of people will ever pay it.

As a vehement supporter of death taxes (even with the right wing’s label), I quickly blamed propaganda and said education is the answer.  Let people know not just “you won’t pay it,” but also that it’s not a meaningful disincentive to economic activity.

But an article makes me wonder.  It says that many people deny scientific consensuses despite exposure to scientists’ views:  people base their views of reality on ideology, not science.  If scientists want to educate the public, they should start by listening, Chris Mooney, Washington Post of June 27, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/25/AR2010062502158.html?hpid=opinionsbox1.

That propensity to disregard what so-called experts say makes it hard to think education will do the trick.  And taxes aren’t science.  When I got into the tax policy business, one of the first things I learned was, “It’s all theology.”  You can’t convince people that a particular tax policy is right or wrong:  individual values determine everyone’s views.

The article’s thinking might lead tax policy folks to ask citizens where they think revenues should come from.  (Let folks think about the effects of payroll taxes over against those of death taxes.)   Maybe that would work.

American Public Media has a budget simulation exercise online at http://marketplace.publicradio.org/features/budget_hero/.  Its treatment of taxes is primitive; its come-on ignores taxes altogether:  “If you ever wanted to control where your tax dollars go, here’s your chance to decide.”

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