Earlier this year, we allowed the estate tax to lapse entirely. Billionaires are now free to take a lifetime of accumulated wealth and pass it on to their heirs. We've come full-circle from the last Gilded Age. So it's worth looking back at Andrew Carnegie's Gospel of Wealth for a reminder of why we needed an estate tax in the first place:
The growing disposition to tax more and more heavily large estates left at death is a cheering indication of the growth of a salutary change in public opinion....Of all forms of taxation, this seems the wisest. Men who continue hoarding great sums all their lives, the proper use of which for public ends would work good to the community, should be made to feel that the community, in the form of the state, cannot thus be deprived of its proper share...This policy would work powerfully to induce the rich man to attend to the administration of wealth during his life, which is the end that society should always have in view, as being that by far most fruitful for the people.For Carnegie, the ideal estate tax would not generate any revenue at all. It was instrumental. He hoped its prospect would nudge the wealthy into actively redistributing their own fortunes in support of the particular goals they found attractive. It was only if they attempted to hoard the fortune the society had enabled them to accrue, and pass it on to future generations intact, that the state would have an obligation to intervene.
This post first appeared here under the name Cynic.