The Estate Tax

From Abigail Disney (yes, those Disneys):

One thing I do know is this: In a far stricter tax environment, my grandfather still managed to accumulate and pass on ample funds to make three subsequent generations very comfortable indeed. And as an inheritor I am here to tell you, the estate tax is not as much of a bogeyman as you’ve been led to believe.

Let’s start with the facts:

• First, the estate tax is not a double tax. Have you met a multimillionaire who earned that much money pulling down a weekly paycheck? People who make enough to be affected by the estate tax — fewer than 1% of Americans who die in any given year — amass their fortunes by investing. Investment income is taxed differently from earned income, often not at all until it’s sold. People like me, who inherit assets such as Disney stock, can spend our lives watching those assets grow, and when we pass them along to our children, they have not been touched or diminished at all by the tax system. The only thing I have paid taxes on is the interest from these assets, not their increased value.

•Second, opponents of the estate tax claim family farms will have to be broken up to pay the tax, but good luck finding an example of this. Further, if the exemption is kept at $3.5 million (where it stood last year) and indexed for inflation, the likelihood of this ever happening is reduced to nil.

•Third, the estate tax incentivizes people like me to do good with our wealth because there is no estate tax on donations to charity. My filmmaking and foundations rely on a tax code that supports a vigorous non-profit sector, a vital part of our society that is bigger and stronger because of the many millions of dollars that flow into it as a result of the estate tax and other tax provisions.

To those who believe the estate tax is unfair, I say that there is no tax more fair than this one. I recently signed the Call to Preserve the Estate Tax organized by United for a Fair Economy because the estate tax is an expression of our deepest American values: that we live in a meritocracy, not an aristocracy; that every generation is a fresh start; and that we choose to build a society in which wealth and opportunity do not accrue to people simply for being born wealthy.

Walt and Roy embody those values: They started without two cents to rub together and made a million wishes come true.

I have seen the business environment in Liberia, for example, a country with no tax revenues. I suspect even my brilliant grandfather would not have been able to build a successful business there. I have been to places like Sudan and Congo and know what it looks like when there is no 911 to call, no schools and where governments are disinterested in working toward the collective good.

Here at home, I have watched the gap between rich and poor driven to historic highs by a tax policy that has exacerbated our deficit and eviscerated our basic capacity to provide schooling, emergency services, and clean water and air for one and all. The estate tax is the cornerstone of a progressive system that leaves wealthy heirs with ample funds while providing the government with the resources it needs to build an environment for the common good. By preserving it, we not only restore billions in revenue to the national treasury — we also restore our most cherished collective ideals as a nation.

“Tax me” may be the least popular sentence in America, but it’s what I am asking, and I hope that our leaders are listening.

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