Of death and taxes and entertainment
Evidently, Bill Clinton is not about to leave the stage. But unfortunately for Citizen Bill there is nothing that he is likely to do that will restore his tarnished past or create an admirable future. As Time Magazine suggests, he is the “incredible shrinking president.” But shrinking or stinking, Bill Clinton is not going to go quietly.
Meanwhile, President George W. Bush, in his effort to get the nation moving toward a more honorable future, made the mistake of brushing aside the report that Clinton staffers and friends stripped Air Force One of everything that wasn’t bolted down. President Bush has no direct knowledge of what happened after he loaned Air Force One to the Clintons for their flight to New York. The on-board stewards and the highly-respected reporter, John McCaslin, gave eyewitness accounts of the looting. The Air Force personnel can be told to shut up but McCaslin sticks by his story and will not retract it.
The new President’s urge to get on with the national agenda is understandable and the first item on his plate is tax reduction. Clearly, the government is collecting too much income tax, too much in capital-gains taxes and entirely too much in death taxes. Granted, these tax reductions or eliminations will jump-start a sagging economy. But more importantly, tax reductions and especially the elimination of the death tax are morally correct.
Allow me to thank Bill Gates, Sr. for proving that the Estate or Death Tax does not effect the wealthiest taxpayers. Mr. Gates heads his son’s multi-billion-dollar charitable foundation. Mr. Gates says repeal of the death tax will adversely effect charitable giving. In a way, Mr. Gates is correct because the truly wealthy find ways to prevent the federal government from confiscating 55 percent of their estates by doing estate planning that allows them to decide where the proceeds from their estates will go. And yes, Mr. Gates, they sometimes give part of their estates to favorite charities. But, they get to decide were their money goes, not some federal bureaucrat.
Mr. Gates fails to take into account the thousands of Americans who can’t afford or do not engage in fancy estate-planning schemes. Thus, their heirs are often forced to sell the family business or ranch or farm to pay the estate or death taxes. Let’s show some concern, Mr. Gates, for folks whom you are not likely to meet at your country club.
Economist Milton Friedman says he sees no problem if 90 percent of the taxpayers wanted to tax themselves to provide help to the poorest ten percent of the population. But that is not today’s reality.
Today, we have a tax situation where about 97 percent of the population want about three percent of the taxpayers to fork over their money to support the poorest 20 percent of the population. And that is precisely where the opponents of tax reduction are wrong when they claim that the wealthy would benefit unfairly from across-the-board tax cuts. When most of the tax burden is being paid by about three percent of the taxpayers, they should have their fair share of tax relief.
This observer’s concern about the Bush tax reduction proposal is that it will remove about six million more Americans from the obligation to pay any federal income taxes at all. There is something to be said for every American, rich or poor, to pay something toward the operation of the nation we call America – even if it is a mere five bucks.
Those who get a completely “free ride,” tend to be indifferent to government waste and fraud. Once their government check arrives each month, their concern about government efficiency often ends right there.
Now, the nation needs to turn to serious matters such as tax reduction and national defense. But the years ahead will not be boring. It looks like we always have Bill Clinton to entertain us.
William Hamilton is a nationally syndicated columnist and a featured commentator for USA Today.
© 2001. William Hamilton.