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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haiti, Death and Taxes

Perhaps it is a bit weird that when I reflect on the devastation in Haiti, I tend to think about the day before it happened? Yet it is undoubtedly the case that we all do this to some extent when for example we exclaim, “I never saw that coming!” In many ways, January 11, 2010 reminds me of September 10, 2001, the day before our own major disaster. As I went about my day without a thought of Americans dying in masses, I had no idea that events were about to unfold that would change this world forever and that would cause so much pain. I would imagine that the people of Haiti had a similar experience on January 11: deep below the earth’s crust right under their feet--and unbeknownst to anyone--events were unfolding that would culminate with such devastation. If only the people of Port Au Prince Haiti and the people inside the World Trade Center were given a heads-up, who knows how many lives could have been saved.

Before I go any further I would like to make it very clear that my reference to Haiti is NOT purely academic; I’m not merely using their misfortune as a means to an end. My heart goes out to the people of Haiti and I shall remember them in my prayers.

With that said, I would now like to call your attention to something very important that will happen at the start of next year. Consider this article your warning. I also want to make sure you do not forget what you are about to read by drawing an analogy using current events.

Current events:

On January 12, 2010 the country of Haiti was rocked by the largest earthquake in recent history. Tons of concrete came crashing down on the people living there. As a result, well over one hundred thousand people have died. The devastation is so great that it is beyond the people and government of Haiti to deal with on their own. Now I have a hypothetical question for you: What if you were a part of a rescue team looking for survivors in Haiti, and while looking you find a little girl crying as she gazes at a collapsed building. You and your party rush to the pile of concrete and start digging for survivors, but it’s too late, the little girl’s mom is already dead. Your team pulls the dead woman from the rubble and checks for anything that might identify her, and as you search you find one hundred U.S. dollars. As you are about to hand the little girl the money, a member of the Haitian government sees what is going on and says, “Stop! Fifty five percent that money is mine.” How would you feel about that?

Future Events:

Let me start by giving you some background history. In 2001, one of the first tax cuts president Bush implemented was to reduce the estate (death) tax from 55% to 45% with the exempted amount going from one million to 3.5 million in 2009. The tax then falls to 0% in 2010 (this year). In 2011 the law expires, and then the death tax goes back to 55% with a one million dollar exemption limit.[1] The future event is this, at the end of this year the death tax goes from 0 to 55% with an exemption limit of one million dollars. Let me put it in terms that even liberals can understand: If you are worth over one million dollars (by the way, your worth includes any life insurance policies you might own) and you die in 2011, the U.S. government will give one million dollars to your beneficiaries then take 55% of the rest. Not to be outdone, our president wants to change current law such that instead of going to zero this year, the death tax will return to its 2009 parameters. You would miss this if you weren’t paying attention because Obama hid this fact in his 2010 budget within the fine print of a footnote.[2]

Now I ask you this my fellow Americans: is there a more despicable, inhumane and heartless act than looting the dead? To steal from a family in its most desperate time of need. Remember my analogy; is taking $55 from the little girl in Haiti any different from what our government is doing to Americans who have died? Yet even now I can sense some of you getting angry with me at the same time agreeing with the president saying, “I have no problem sticking it to some rich dead guy.” To you I would ask, would the government official in my Haiti analogy be any less despicable if instead of 100 dollars the dead mother of the little girl had $1000?

If you read this article and you somehow felt indifferent or even satisfied with the prospect of the government taking from the rich after they die, then your moral compass is either completely out of sorts or I have failed miserably in making my point. Because of course the protagonist in my article is not the person who dies, but the person who lives. Anyone can rationalize stealing, that does not mean you should do it. If I see Bill Gates drop $20 dollars from his pocket, I still would be obligated to return the money to him, even though he is a billionaire fifty times over. How much more should we respect the property of the dead? But even if you are finding it hard to have empathy for the “rich,” understand this: It is very possible that a person who lives to be 75 years old would own a house valued at $500,000 with a life insurance policy of equal value. And what if that person happens to own a small business (the lifeblood of our economy) -- his or her family would be in the crosshairs of the death tax. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of these people worked hard for their money so that their children will have a better life. If the government takes away our ability to pass on wealth to our children-- or whomever we please--then it will have taken away one of the main incentives to produce wealth in the first place. And as we all know, people who produce wealth usually need others to help them produce it.

So now consider yourself warned, but I implore you to not take this one sitting. We stopped a catastrophic healthcare reform bill. Now we can stop the death tax, and allow the family of someone who dies-- rich or poor-- to grieve in peace.

Danian Michael,
Political Agenda.


[1] The exemption limit refers to the maximum amount you can pass on to your beneficiaries without being taxed. Incidentally, if your spouse is the beneficiary, no taxes apply.

[2] Read the president’s 2010 budget plan for yourself. You will find his reinstituting the death tax on page 121 in footnote No. 2. He titled it, “A New Era of Responsibility – Renewing America’s Promise.” It’s funny that even here, Obama can’t help but blame Bush. Will he ever stand on his own two feet and stop using Bush as a crutch?

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Anonymous Cheryl Davidson said...

Danian, great article, how do we stop the death tax?

Cheryl Davidson

January 25, 2010 at 5:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Death tax, sales tax, property tax, taxing the eletric bill, gas bill, water bill, phone bill...

where does it end. When does taxation become tyranny in itself!

January 25, 2010 at 11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post and this enter helped me alot in my college assignement. Thanks you as your information.

February 2, 2010 at 12:57 PM  

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