Testing Supply-Side Economics: Will a 0% Estate Tax Promote Early Death?

By Michael Kinsley

This post is part of our forum on Michael Kinsley's October cover story exploring the legacy of the Baby Boomers and what they owe the country. Follow the debate here.

Thanks to Chris Buckley for this interesting and funny (and civil!) contribution to our discussion. There is only one copy of the novel he refers to, Boomsday, left at Amazon. I was going to snatch it, but am downloading it onto my Kindle instead.
Can the Boomers Save America?
Like many a modest proposal since Swift, Buckley's--that the government offer tax breaks for people who commit suicide at age 65, sparing the government the expense of old age--is falling victim to life imitating art. As part of the Bush II tax cuts, the estate tax was phased out over ten years. Then it was supposed to hit zero, for one year and then bounce back to where it was when the exercise started. (The reason was to hide the true long-term costs. Nobody thought that the last part--the bounce-back--would ever really happen. But this is the year and it has happened. Anyone who dies in 2010 pays no estate tax. And even if they manage to change the rules, the change would not apply to those who have already died this year.

Supply-side economics, to which Chris avers, holds that tax cuts pay for themselves by encouraging the behavior that is subject to the tax. Pushing the estate tax rate down to zero, therefore, should encourage the very few people to whom it applies to check out early. Especially when the tax shoots back up next year.

The debate continues here.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2010/09/testing-supply-side-economics-will-a-0-estate-tax-promote-early-death/63229/