Saturday, November 2, 2019
People of all tax brackets seems to revile the federal estate tax but are enchanted by a proposed wealth tax. They both appear to slow down wealth inequality by taxing a low number of highly fortunate Americans, so why the difference in affections? Could it be simply that the estate tax has been in force for an extended amount of time while the wealth tax is shiny and new?
Both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have proposed net worth taxes, which is how wealth taxes are usually defined. In April, Quinnipac University conducted a poll that found that 60% of respondents liked the idea of a 2% annual tax on “wealth over $50 million”; 34% opposed the idea. However, Quinnipac also ran a survey in November of 2017 and found that 48% of respondents in support of estate tax repeal while 43% wanted it to stay in place.
When the estate tax exemption was first created in 1942, it was set at $60,000 - equivalent just below $1 million today - and stayed there for a whopping 34 years. By the time lawmakers increased the estate tax exemption in 1976, that $60,000 exemption was worth about a quarter of what it had been in 1942. Opponents fought it on different grounds, including double taxation, and it was even repealed in 2001, only to be brought back from the grave just 10 years later. With the amount the exemption is at today, 99.4% of estate are exempt from it. This means that the top 10% of American income earners pay more than 90% of the estate tax; almost 40% is paid by the richest 0.1%.
See Joseph Thorndike, Why Do People Hate Estate Taxes But Love Wealth Taxes?, Forbes, October 30, 2019.
Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.