The Death Tax Lives!

Robert Frank:

...the most important reason for the death of the “Death Tax” movement is what might be called the Paris Hilton affect. In 2001, with inequality mostly a buzzword among a few left-wing professors, it was easier to get public support for killing a tax on the wealthy. Many Americans felt they could become wealthy someday, too, so they opposed any punitive tax on their imagined futures. That was especially true in 2006, when Congress took up repeal again and Americans felt newly wealthy because of rising home values.

But in the intervening eight years, the nonwealthy actually became less wealthy and Americans realized they would be lucky to retire at all, let alone get rich enough to become the target of an estate tax. They also resented the rich Wall Streeters and corporate chiefs who lost so much of other people’s money and publicly paraded their wealth.

Capping it off was a populist branding campaign that was just as clever as the “death tax” brand. The term was “The Paris Hilton Relief Act,” suggesting that abolishing the estate tax would merely give more money to wasteful, dog-and-diamond-toting heirs such as Ms. Hilton. Mr. Obama used the term in 2006 when he said the “Paris Hilton tax break” would give “billions of dollars to billionaire heirs and heiresses.”