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September 12, 2013 7:17 PM   Subscribe

Zachary R. Mider writes about how the Waltons avoid paying the estate tax. There is a follow-up interview at Bloomberg TV.
posted by Going To Maine (163 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Just reading the post text, it took me a second to realize that it referred to the "Walmart" Waltons and not the "John Boy" Waltons.

That's it, right? I had some weird things going through my head.
posted by hwestiii at 7:21 PM on September 12, 2013 [48 favorites]


Right! This thread will be more of a cultural litmus test than I expected.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:23 PM on September 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm glad it wasn't just me. I was all "Well, they didn't have much to begin with..."
posted by Miko at 7:24 PM on September 12, 2013 [18 favorites]


I'm delighted by the image of people clicking through expecting a lighthearted piece of joking by some columnist who has been digging through episodes for trace messages about financial planning, only to be confronted by a dry pile of sentences referencing Jackie O. Trusts and GRATs.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:29 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm an estate planner, and IMHO that's a pretty well written article. that's a rare thing when the MSM tackles tax
posted by jpe at 7:29 PM on September 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


A family spokesman, Lance Morgan, said in a statement that “any charitable or estate planning practices employed by the Walton family are broadly available and commonly used.”

It's a rigged game that's easier for players who know the rules. Best we can hope for are for the tax loopholes to get closed.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:31 PM on September 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


Well, best we can hope for is the plutocrats executed and their assets seized, but I'll meet you in the middle, BP.
posted by klangklangston at 7:44 PM on September 12, 2013 [42 favorites]


I am also in favor of having them killed and seizing their assets. It's unfortunately, but they are the ones who put themselves in an "us vs them" situation and they have made it clear that they're not going to back down.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:58 PM on September 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Why should your assets be taxed upon your death?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:00 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I thought the best thing we can hope for is a post-scarcity society where money is worthless and people are free to enrich themselves through the pursuit of knowledge and the expression of art, but I'd be happy if these people paid their freakin' fair share already.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 8:02 PM on September 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Best we can hope for are for the tax loopholes to get closed.

Those loopholes were lovingly crafted with years of lobbying and political donations and will be maintained, in perpetuity, with the same. Any notion of changing the game when you don't have a seat at the table is folly...
posted by jim in austin at 8:03 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why should your assets be taxed upon your death?

To prevent the emergence of a de-facto monarchy.

You may not have noticed, but that's what's going on here.
posted by mhoye at 8:06 PM on September 12, 2013 [55 favorites]


A friend of my hung out with one of the young Walton heirs a few years ago. The young Walton apparently travels/parties around the world with a personal DJ, and oftentimes his lawyer. Besides this, his passion in life is 'education reform.'

It really helps me sleep easy that his marginal tax rate is lower than mine.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 8:08 PM on September 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


Sooooo...this might not be a popular opinion, but I'm not a fan of estate taxes. One of the most significant reasons anyone amasses wealth is to provide security for future generations. No matter what income bracket you fall under, that feels to me like a nearly universal aspiration. It also feels like a thing we as a society want to encourage (which I tend to view as one of the purposes of the tax code in general...carrots and sticks). So it irks me that we would take such a huge bite out of a next generation's inheritance, regardless of the scope of someone's estate.

I'm a big believer in a progressive, redistributive tax code. But I'd rather spend the energy making sure the richest of the rich pay proper income taxes on their investments and corporate profits and such, rather than nailing their progeny. Put another way, I'm way more put out that Walmart probably pays $0 in taxes on profits than I am that the Waltons hide their inheritance in trusts.
posted by dry white toast at 8:08 PM on September 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


In light of all the calls for murder, I would like to highlight an interesting part of the article:

According to his autobiography, “Made in America,” Sam Walton started arranging his affairs to avoid a potential estate tax bill in 1953. His five-and-dime-store business was still in its infancy and his oldest child was 9.
That year, he gave a 20 percent stake in the family business to each of his children, keeping 20 percent for himself and his wife.
“The best way to reduce paying estate taxes is to give your assets away before they appreciate,” he wrote in the book.


I think it's interesting that even before he was in the elite, Walton was planning on avoiding the estate tax.

Why should your assets be taxed upon your death?

While I have no deep answer for you right now, plugging the question 'why have an estate tax' into Google unearthed this nice column from the Wall Street Journal back in 2010: The Estate Tax Is Fair, And We Need The Revenue. It has some good meat.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:08 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


The young Walton apparently travels/parties around the world with a personal DJ

My DJ lays down some real hardcore shit while the doctor tells me the lump on my left testicle is just a benign cyst.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:10 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why should your assets be taxed upon your death?

Why should you care? You're dead.

Seriously, though, there's a big difference between providing for one's family and creating a permanent upper class. The estate tax always had a large exemption ($1 million?) and a lot of the assets were probably accumulated capital gains that were never heavily taxed in the first place. Plus it's not like everything that was over the cap went directly to the government.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:15 PM on September 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


From a carrot and sticks point of view, what exactly is the problem with the estate tax? What, Sam Walton isn't going to bother to become a billionaire because of taxes? If each Walton heir had only half of what they had now, how insecure would they feel?

Or is it that society has a special interest in encouraging people to be born into wealth they did nothing to earn? We wouldn't want to discourage that now, would we?
posted by leopard at 8:18 PM on September 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm a big believer in a progressive, redistributive tax code. But I'd rather spend the energy making sure the richest of the rich pay proper income taxes on their investments and corporate profits and such, rather than nailing their progeny

Why not both? Poor progeny, "nailed" so they can only be a little bit rich without lifting one of their fragile little fingers.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:19 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


So it irks me that we would take such a huge bite out of a next generation's inheritance, regardless of the scope of someone's estate.

Even if the redistribution of wealth means that the scope of the estate is "nearly everything that can be owned"?
posted by XMLicious at 8:20 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


" One of the most significant reasons anyone amasses wealth is to provide security for future generations. No matter what income bracket you fall under, that feels to me like a nearly universal aspiration."

Greed is a nearly universal aspiration. That doesn't mean we have to flatter it.

And seriously, God save the children who only get $60 billion instead of $100 billion.

I honestly think that part of the problem is that Americans just don't understand how enormous these numbers are anymore, and so get pretty stupid about them.
posted by klangklangston at 8:23 PM on September 12, 2013 [42 favorites]


> Put another way, I'm way more put out that Walmart probably pays $0 in taxes on profits than I am that the Waltons hide their inheritance in trusts.

But it's part and parcel of the same thing. They work people like slaves to become hugely wealthy and flout both letter and spirit of all tax laws, labor laws, and the "social contract" in general. The result is the destruction of the middle class, the collapse that we're right in the middle of.

And this isn't going to be solved by negotiation or politicking, because the Waltons and their fellow travelers have also made that impossible. When our Democratic, "left-wing" President touts warehouse jobs at Amazon, back-breaking, poorly paid jobs in the boonies which teach their workers nothing and have almost zero chance of leading to any sort of job you'd really want to have, what hope do we have left?

The classic statement is that there are three ways to change things politically - ballots, bullets and bribes. We don't get a choice on the ballot any more and we can't possibly match the bribes that the rich can...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:27 PM on September 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


One of the most significant reasons anyone amasses wealth is to provide security for future generations.

If you inherit $5 million, you can put it in a goddamn money market account, spend $300,000 a year for your entire life and give $5 million to each of your four kids. How much security do you want to allow people to provide to their progeny before you're willing to call it aristocracy?
posted by Etrigan at 8:27 PM on September 12, 2013 [51 favorites]


The status quo is perfect for everyone, though. Democrats and Republicans get to have a very loud public fight over how high the estate tax should be, with occasional wins going to both sides. Meanwhile no one actually pays the tax -- at least no one with a halfway competent lawyer. The only people who are hurt are the 80 or 90 percent of Americans who die with no significant net worth, who have to pay higher income taxes for their entire lives to compensate.
posted by miyabo at 8:28 PM on September 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


If you inherit $5 million, you can put it in a goddamn money market account, spend $300,000 a year for your entire life and give $5 million to each of your four kids.

Never mind the estate tax, where can a plebe like me find a money market account that's returning 10%?
posted by willnot at 8:53 PM on September 12, 2013 [13 favorites]


Well, the current secretary of commerce is part of a family that paid tens of millions in a settlement for illegal off shore tax dodging and half a billion for shady banking practices.

So it should be no surprise that that the hen house isn't secure when the fox and the farmer are one and the same.
posted by srboisvert at 8:56 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Our tax system is broken! Oh my!
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:10 PM on September 12, 2013


If, after benefitting from all of the education, health care, and access to power that comes from being the child of a billionaire you cannot make your own fortune through your own labors, then why should I be interested in helping you preserve your intergenerational fortune? With that much of a head start you should have so much of an advantage that making money hand-over-fist should be child's play. Why should I, via the state, help the incompetent, lazy descendants of someone who actually worked for his fortune stay monstrously wealthy?
posted by 1adam12 at 9:27 PM on September 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


People need to realize the insane size of wealth that can be concentrated in a small family in a globalized world. Wealth = power and this wealth we be major wealth for many, many, many generations. We're not talking about shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves, we are looking at hundreds of years of immense, unearned wealth. Think how dangerous that could be for the values of an open, democratic, capitalist society.
posted by chaz at 9:47 PM on September 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


Besides this, his passion in life is 'education reform.'

"Education reform" is a big thing with the Waltons and also one of those phrases that sounds lofty and altruistic but in reality is pretty shitty. It's basically charter schools and voucher programs. Because

In a June 2011 speech to the graduating class of the private school her son Lukas attended, Christy Walton explained that her family became involved in K-12 education reform because their business—presumably Walmart—“was having trouble finding qualified people to fill entry-level positions”

I'll let other people pick that one apart.

Here's a little more about it.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:56 PM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why should your assets be taxed upon your death?

Why should my income that comes from a dead relative be taxed at a lower rate that the income I earn?
posted by stet at 10:12 PM on September 12, 2013 [20 favorites]


Some folk need to review that football field/stack of dollar bills visualization that demonstrates just how fucking insane is the wealth of a billionaire.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:15 PM on September 12, 2013


And seriously, God save the children who only get $60 billion instead of $100 billion.

Thank you. Jesus. I suppose it's CLASS WARFARE to be so crude as to talk raw numbers and raw dollar amounts, but fuck it, I'll go to war. The initial exemption is already a quite high, just as it works with income tax brackets.

Sometimes I feel like I have to talk down to these greedy folks like they are 5 years old: "...and see the water that spills in this bucket, that's yours, I won't take any of that. But if you have water that fills in this bucket, I'll take part of it to give to everyone else. And you still have a bunch of totally full buckets, right? Look over at Debbie and Steve. They only have one bucket, and theirs are almost empty. They look pretty thirsty to me! I'm gonna put some of the water in theirs, ok?"
posted by zardoz at 10:28 PM on September 12, 2013 [18 favorites]


In a June 2011 speech to the graduating class of the private school her son Lukas attended, Christy Walton explained that her family became involved in K-12 education reform because their business—presumably Walmart—“was having trouble finding qualified people to fill entry-level positions”

Translation: We currently have to train people how to operate a cash register, price gun, and a forklift. We'd prefer that public education funded by your property taxes do that for us.
posted by TrialByMedia at 10:48 PM on September 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well, best we can hope for is the plutocrats executed and their assets seized, but I'll meet you in the middle, BP

Thats a trifle immoderate of you old man, what what?
posted by Plutocratte at 11:01 PM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


["Tone" remarks removed; let's stick to Metatalk for meta-discussion.]
posted by taz (staff) at 11:27 PM on September 12, 2013


Reading the article, it looks like one of the major "loopholes" is a law that lets you avoid lots of estate tax if you give money to "charity".

So once again, legislators have produced a complex piece of tax law to achieve policy objectives rather than seeing the tax system as a way of raising revenue. And once again it has resulted in distortions and unfairness.

Simplifying the tax law would be a better use of time than blaming people for taking advantage of perfectly legal ways to avoid paying tax.

I've no problem with an Estate Tax, though, if it's efficient to collect and doesn't distort the economy massively. I think US/UK economies need more wealth taxes, as opposed to income taxes. But that's probably related to my not being very wealthy but having a fairly high income - people's stand on tax and wealth usually depends on their personal circumstances.
posted by alasdair at 11:52 PM on September 12, 2013


Why is taxation of (giant) estates any worse than taxation while one is alive? And if single taxation is OK, why not double taxation? (Though lots of estate wealth wasn't taxed as income to begin with.). It's all taking someone's wealth and redistributing it to the betterment of the society in which they reside.

I don't feel the force of the a priori arguments against estate taxes.

And then there are all the empirical arguments for it: More egalitarian societal structure, not as much idle money that is used to inflate bubbles, better economic growth because redistributing money spends it and you get a Kenyesian multiplier, etc. etc.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 12:07 AM on September 13, 2013


"So once again, legislators have produced a complex piece of tax law to achieve policy objectives rather than seeing the tax system as a way of raising revenue. And once again it has resulted in distortions and unfairness. "

Distortions are not necessarily unfairness; policy objectives do distort. That this is monstrously unfair in this instance does not reinforce free market dogmatism about the efficiency of markets. I agree with you on tax reform, but the real problem is that people like the Waltons object to the goal of equitable tax policy — they do not want to pay any taxes. Which makes sense from their point of view, but is something any conversation about real tax reform has to include.

Simplifying the tax law would be a better use of time than blaming people for taking advantage of perfectly legal ways to avoid paying tax.

This is a bit obtuse, though. The reason why these are perfectly legal means of avoiding taxes is because people like the Waltons have been able to pass laws (and win court cases) that keep them legal. The hand-wavey "change the law" approach will not work without acknowledging that the Waltons pay millions of dollars to keep things deeply fucked. It's totally legitimate to be angry at someone fixing the rules of the game so that you get poorer while they get richer.
posted by klangklangston at 12:08 AM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


[Also, one note: totally understood that the first "execute the plutocrats" comment was just a joke in the context of the previous comment, but we need to keep the fantasizing / describing murder stuff out of the thread, so let's cut any more of that.]
posted by taz (staff) at 12:12 AM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


My nephew works for Walmart, and is held under 30 hours a week so that he won't qualify for benefits. He has a second job. His girlfriend works for Sam's Club as a demonstrator. A couple of years back these employees were laid off en masse and rehired as basically freelancers. She never knows when or how much she is going to be working. They just had a second child. They are on food stamps. They receive WIC and Badgercare (Medicaid). Taxpayers paid for her entire childbirth. They are on a waiting list for federally subsidized housing.

Thanks, Alice!
posted by dhartung at 12:44 AM on September 13, 2013 [17 favorites]


And then there are all the empirical arguments for it: More egalitarian societal structure, not as much idle money that is used to inflate bubbles, better economic growth because redistributing money spends it and you get a Kenyesian multiplier, etc. etc.

Given that tax policy is used to influence individual behaviour, one does wonder what sort of behaviour is being encouraged? Save it up and give it to this kids so they can spend it? I can see over one generation that this might make sense - often the children expand and make good use of investment capital acquired by their parents - but the grandchildren spend it all on coke and hookers.

Giving it to the government to "invest" is of course a very silly idea, but encouraging the first or second generation of wealth to spend it while they are still alive - by threatening this behaviour with punitive estate taxes - would seem to be a good social policy. It is better to see Bill Gates involved in giving his own money away then to imagine what his grandchildren - or the government - would blow it on.
posted by three blind mice at 1:22 AM on September 13, 2013


Giving it to the government to "invest" is of course a very silly idea

I too hate driving on roads, flying on planes that don't fall out of the sky, eating food which isn't poisonous, and a myriad of other silly things. The problem with private "charity" is that it only by coincidence does the things that need doing as opposed to someone's pet project, and even more often attaches humiliating or inefficient strings to the charitable giving itself.

Governments are much better at actually addressing the things that need doing, no matter how many 75-IQ congressmen stand up to give out "golden fleece" awards to programs they are (absolutely) too dense to understand.

Taxing wealth absolutely should be given priority over taxing income, but both need to be done.

Why is it that the most vociferous all-government-and-all-regulations-are-bad commentators on MF oft live in--and enjoy the perks of--the most socialist countries in the world--by choice? As far as I can tell, no one who promotes the idea of "small government" ever goes and lives where that's the reality, because those places are shitholes.
posted by maxwelton at 3:28 AM on September 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


I went to college with one of the Walton grandchildren. He lived on my floor freshman year, and we had Econ together. Unfortunately I absorbed none of his money savvy (and bombed Econ despite our study group), but he was a nice, down-to-earth guy. If you didn't know who he was, you never would have guessed by his appearance or attitude. There were plenty of other kids at that school who acted like entitled a-holes with far less money in their bank accounts.
posted by candyland at 3:41 AM on September 13, 2013


I am also in favor of having them killed and seizing their assets.
True story: Nearing her death in 2005, Rose Kennedy, having not stepped foot in Florida for several years had her "permanent address" changed from Massachusetts, where there is an inheritance tax, to Florida, where there isn't one. Ted did the same thing before he died in 2009. He "sold" the Hyannis compound to a relative (for $1.00), thus his only domicile was in Florida. But let's be fair, at least he was on top of things when he...

Voted NO on raising the Death Tax exemption to $5M from $1M.
Voted NO on supporting extending estate tax cuts.
Voted NO on repealing the `death tax`.
posted by Gungho at 4:27 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


we need to keep the fantasizing / describing murder stuff out of the thread, so let's cut any more of that

Do you hear the people sing?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 4:42 AM on September 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


pedantry ahead: that $1 sale is just a formality. something has to go on the line for sales price, so when the transfer is some sort of gifting transaction or related party thing, we typically put a buck or ten bucks or something. whatever the transaction was, I'm pretty sure it wasn't a sale for a buck.
posted by jpe at 5:40 AM on September 13, 2013


I am with stet above, I think we need to tax all income the same way. So if you receive your income from work, we tax you the same way as a person who receives their income from investments. This should be the same if you receive a vast chunk of income from a dead relative. Everyone seems to be fine taxing lottery winners on their income. How is an inheritor any different? This would be a simpler system because we would have one set of progressive tax rates, and all forms of income would be taxed at those rates.
posted by bove at 5:41 AM on September 13, 2013


I think it's interesting that even before he was in the elite, Walton was planning on avoiding the estate tax.

I don't know that he wasn't in the elite, relatively speaking, if he was the owner of a profit-making business. Even if the scale was smaller, he already had more than most Americans. He had assets or he wouldn't have bothered thinking about protecting them.

There were plenty of other kids at that school who acted like entitled a-holes with far less money in their bank accounts.

I'm sure that's true, but personal comportment/taste have little to do with the politics and economics of the situation. I mean, it would be more satisfying to some if the guy was a total d-bag, but actually the personalities of people involved are irrelevant to whether this is a good idea for society.
posted by Miko at 5:49 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seriously, though, there's a big difference between providing for one's family and creating a permanent upper class.

Actually, is there?

At least from my perspective, one of the reason for working so hard and trying to accumulate money and houses and stuff is to make sure that your children and your children's children will be okay. I even want my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be okay. And what I view as "okay" - and I think it's the same for most - is "living like I currently live." I don't want my children's standard of living to fall when I die.

In an ideally successful world, that means if I start out upper class, and have the means to do it, all of my family will be upper class until someone spends all the money stupidly on hookers and blow and giant gold-plated statues of themselves.

People say, do I want my children to be lazy? But I do! I absolutely do! I absolutely want to exempt as many of my children from the rat race as possible! To quote John Adams,
I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.
I want to give my children and their children's children the financial security to provide for everyone of their dreams. If one of my grandchildren is interested in underwater basketweaving, I want to be able to know that after I'm dead, I'll be able to provide for them to travel the globe in search of the best underwater baskets. I may not be able to do this! In fact, I probably will never be wealthy on that kind of scale. But if there is no estate tax, it offers each family a chance to increase their wealth so that someday we might be.
posted by corb at 6:18 AM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


If I could pay off legislators with $1 billion in order to save $39 billion, why wouldn't I? And so they do.

WRT to trusts - that's an interesting sore point. I've created a trust for my daughter. She's disabled and will always be so. At some point, she will be a ward of the state. Without the trust, the state can and will take all her assets. In return, she will be cared for. However, she will not be cared for any better if she has no assets. Therefore, it makes sense to set up a special needs trust for her and encourage her relatives to contribute to the trust instead.

This feels more like what the trusts were intended for, but money talks.
posted by plinth at 6:22 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


But if there is no estate tax, it offers each family a chance to increase their wealth so that someday we might be.

In its majestic equality, the law allows rich and poor alike to pass on and benefit from intergenerational wealth.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:29 AM on September 13, 2013 [13 favorites]


do I want my children to be lazy? But I do! I absolutely do! I absolutely want to exempt as many of my children from the rat race as possible!

Hoo, boy, is that revealing sentiment. There is a difference between "being exempt from the rat race" and "being lazy". Not being forced to bow and scrape to get by is different from being able to travel and party all the time, let alone choosing to do so. Financial security means not worrying about the future, it doesn't mean having a personal goddamn DJ.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:36 AM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


"I don't believe in aristocracy, I just want my children and their children to have practically guaranteed upper-class status solely because they were born into an upper-class family."
posted by kewb at 6:50 AM on September 13, 2013 [22 favorites]


Why do conservatives always consider it such a moral hazard for the poor to be idle, but not the rich?

all of my family will be upper class until someone spends all the money stupidly on hookers and blow and giant gold-plated statues of themselves.

Except in real economies, other things besides profligacy affect the value of different kinds of currencies and investments, and there is no guarantee that the return on a family fortune will definitely stay stable. Ask a 19th-century whaling captain, as an extreme example.
posted by Miko at 6:52 AM on September 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


Why should your assets be taxed upon your death?

Paris Hilton.
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:52 AM on September 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


In an ideally successful world, that means if I start out upper class, and have the means to do it, all of my family will be upper class until someone spends all the money stupidly on hookers and blow and giant gold-plated statues of themselves.

I think the problem a lot of us have, barring the pitchfork brigade that is, is that quite a large number of them actually do these things, sorta... and still have plenty of money left over.

I have no problem with people providing for their families, but there are limits. And when you have enough money that you no longer suffer consequences from your actions that's clearly "too much".

And yes, I'm completely aware of how arbitrary that standard is. Which is why I'm all for getting away from a tax code that rewards people for simply having instead of contributing.
posted by Blue_Villain at 6:52 AM on September 13, 2013


do I want my children to be lazy? But I do! I absolutely do!

Ugh. I really do not. That sounds like a gross society to me, one full of lazy do-nothings. I would like all my progeny to be hardworking and feel they are important to society and have made valuable personal contributions from their own fund of resources of character, intellect, skill and strength. It gives me great pride that that's my own personal estate, and I want my children to feel and know what it is like to build a productive life in a society that is designed to create abundant opportunity for all those who can take part.
posted by Miko at 6:56 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure most of Paris Hilton's wealth was actually "earned." I mean, she grew up privileged and she generates more income by being famous for being famous and yeah she's Paris Hilton, but she's basically a personal brand that generates 8 figures a year. Her grandfather is supposedly giving away 97% of his assets to charity when he dies.
posted by leopard at 6:57 AM on September 13, 2013


Yea, no to mention the whole "fuck you got mine" aspect that is inherently perpetuated down by gaming the system so that one's children, and even grandchildren as some commenters have mentioned as ideal, are kept in gold toilet seats and DJs for the rest of their days.

I want my future, not-as-hypothetical-as-they-once-were kids to be financially secure as well but if they're not willing to go out and be as productive a member of society as their capabilities let them then they can piss up a rope and I'll be ashamed to have taken part, and failed them morally, in their development. That's not to say that if little Eld-to-be wants to be an artist or a wandering philosopher that I won't have their back, but they damn sure won't be doing it with an accompanying musician for live background music or be traveling via private jet.

My progeny is no more deserving of a free ride than other human beings around the globe are of having a decent existence in general. It doesn't take flaunting the tax code for your kid to be an architect, a shipwright, or a porcelain sculptor. That doesn't mean that everyone will get the opportunities they deserve but fucking over everyone else to ensure yours get theirs is really, really shitty.

Live simply so that others my simply live. A flawed mantra perhaps but I try to stick to it where I can.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:57 AM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would like all my progeny to be hardworking and feel they are important to society and have made valuable personal contributions from their own fund of resources of character, intellect, skill and strength.

You're falling into corb's false dichotomy trap. Not having to do something you don't want to survive does not mean you're going to be "lazy".
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:59 AM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I'm modestly upper-middle-class (professional with a well-paying job) and I feel my children are going to be super-privileged and as a result they will have an obligation to apply their advantages to be productive, useful members of society.
posted by leopard at 7:00 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


"A very rich person should leave his kids enough to do anything but not enough to do nothing." - Warren Buffett
posted by Ghost Mode at 7:01 AM on September 13, 2013 [15 favorites]


I also think that Adams quote is taken badly out of context. Adams, of course, was facing the task of organizing a new central government that would afford his children the opportunity to study things of their choosing in that later time when the country was more developed, after the nation had provided for its immediate needs:
It is not indeed the fine Arts, which our Country requires. The Usefull, the mechanic Arts, are those which We have occasion for in a young Country, as yet simple and not far advanced in Luxury, altho perhaps much too far for her Age and Character.
In other words, first things first.
posted by Miko at 7:02 AM on September 13, 2013


Not having to do something you don't want to survive does not mean you're going to be "lazy".

I'm not falling into a trap. I didn't say that people needed to do something they don't want, though I can generally accept that many people's lives do involve compromise between their fantasy self-indulgences and the need to earn a living.
posted by Miko at 7:02 AM on September 13, 2013


Why do conservatives always consider it such a moral hazard for the poor to be idle, but not the rich?

I am certainly not the Voice of All Conservatives, but I know that personally, I don't care if people work or not, poor or rich, as long as they have no family. But I think if you have chosen to bring children into this world, you are responsible for working your ass off, up until the point they are fed and clothed and well housed and happy. After that point you can fuck off as much as you like. It is simply that the idle rich already start out in that situation, so they can begin fucking off without delay.

I don't believe in aristocracy

I don't believe in the kind of aristocracy that gives you the life and death power over other people who live on your land. I have no problem with aristocracy in general, though I accept that it may be different for those whose families have been American for generations. Honestly, though, there is a difference between aristocracy and wealth. Trust me, there are a lot of poor aristocrats in Europe right now. I would appreciate, though, a no-mocking explanation of why the concept of aristocracy is such a bugbear.
posted by corb at 7:04 AM on September 13, 2013


People say, do I want my children to be lazy? But I do! I absolutely do! I absolutely want to exempt as many of my children from the rat race as possible! To quote John Adams,

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.


I am no scholar of John Adams, but I think that interpreting this quote as him referring only to his own sons is a bit too restrictive of a reading. (Additionally, the quote notably doesn't include the words "Everyone else's children can get stuffed.") Indeed, the point of a good tax system (to my mind) should be to try and keep everyone's children from having to suffer in the rat race.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:06 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Miko, I am simply saying that corb's framing sets up a false dichotomy of "I want my kids to be rich, therefore I want them to be lazy". I didn't say anything about what you were saying, just that your response seemed to accept her framing.

I have no problem with aristocracy in general

Ew.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:08 AM on September 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


I would rather talk about a guaranteed income set up (plus healthcare for all and a vigorously progressive democracy), if I want my kid not to have to "rat race", than about accumulating mountains of wealth to support him. I love my kid, but I don't want to have to screw over the rest of humanity just to provide for his dreams. There are better ways, ways that don't involve subverting democracy and starving the poor, for my kid to have a good life.

I would take it even further, and say that if you do provide for your descendants by merely accumulating wealth, you protect their bodies at the risk of their souls/better natures. It cuts them off from the rest of humanity, puts their ability to have empathy at risk, teaches them to value things rather than people. If my descendants became the Koch brothers, in other words, it would be better that I never reproduced at all.
posted by emjaybee at 7:09 AM on September 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


I don't believe in the kind of aristocracy that gives you the life and death power over other people who live on your land.

Are you saying you don't believe the mega-wealthy have a disproportionate influence on the formation and maintenance of laws that effect the way the rest of us live our lives? Because when people talk about preventing the formation of an aristocracy in America, that's what they're talking about preventing.
posted by schroedinger at 7:10 AM on September 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's not like the Waltons are off in a bubble with no impact on society. Their wealth comes from an international company that sells half a trillion dollars worth of stuff every year and employs 2,000,000 people. Their great wealth also allows them to have a massive effect on politics, labor regulations, etc.

It's a bit rich to consider the Waltons as having "escaped the rat race" when they freaking own Wal-Mart.
posted by leopard at 7:14 AM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would rather talk about a guaranteed income set up (plus healthcare for all and a vigorously progressive democracy)

Surely if we had a harmless little aristocracy they would have beneficently bestowed this on us already!

It's a bit rich to consider the Waltons as having "escaped the rat race" when they freaking own Wal-Mart.

Quite. They are the ones prodding the rats around the track.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:16 AM on September 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


I would appreciate, though, a no-mocking explanation of why the concept of aristocracy is such a bugbear.

It's simple: because you can't choose your parents. Or your grandparents. Or your great-grandparents. Or your great-great-grandparents.

Why should people who weren't born into the aristocracy be held personally responsible for their forebears inability to be born into the aristocracy?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:32 AM on September 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think the problem people have with "aristocracy" is that the current version has seemingly cemented a legal and social system that intentionally makes class stratification permanent.

My own problem isn't with the concept of people having more, just very specific individuals who have gone out of their way to ensure that the people they profited handsomely off of are worse off than when they started.

This is essentially the core principle of a nifty story I read about a while back.
posted by Blue_Villain at 7:40 AM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Basically the entire world has decided that aristocracy is not a great idea (those aristocracies that are not gone have been politically marginalized to a greater or lesser degree), so I think the onus is on you to tell us what you think is so great about them, anyway.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:42 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would take it even further, and say that if you do provide for your descendants by merely accumulating wealth, you protect their bodies at the risk of their souls/better natures.

Sure, so there's a good amount of work put into passing wealth to future generations without turning the beneficiaries into do-nothings. Trust documents are typically replete w/ language noting that the grantor intends the beneficiaries to be "productive citizens" or somesuch. And, in many cases, there's also a good amount of work putting into preparing beneficiaries for wealth.
posted by jpe at 7:43 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sure, so there's a good amount of work put into passing wealth to future generations without turning the beneficiaries into do-nothings. Trust documents are typically replete w/ language noting that the grantor intends the beneficiaries to be "productive citizens" or somesuch. And, in many cases, there's also a good amount of work putting into preparing beneficiaries for wealth.

Can you elaborate on this? Since this is your area and you thought the article was well-written I think it would be interesting to know more.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:59 AM on September 13, 2013


Miko, I am simply saying that corb's framing sets up a false dichotomy of "I want my kids to be rich, therefore I want them to be lazy". I didn't say anything about what you were saying, just that your response seemed to accept her framing.

I don't accept the dichotomy. I do not want my kids to be rich, even if they are not lazy. Wealth is not a good prescription for happiness.
posted by Miko at 8:33 AM on September 13, 2013


But I think if you have chosen to bring children into this world, you are responsible for working your ass off, up until the point they are fed and clothed and well housed and happy

If that's all you expect from people, then once you've done these basic food/shelter/education things, why should the kids be entitled to anything else from you at all?

There's a bigger question: why should someone be responsible for their children in the first place?

It's not like the Waltons are off in a bubble with no impact on society. Their wealth comes from an international company that sells half a trillion dollars worth of stuff every year and employs 2,000,000 people. Their great wealth also allows them to have a massive effect on politics, labor regulations, etc.

Not to mention, they earn these profits because they are drawing on the public dime to supply the food and medical assistance and free childcare/education that allow them to employ people at below subsistence wages. In other words: they're taking it from us directly, and not just at the cash register.
posted by Miko at 8:39 AM on September 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


The rich, they are different from you and me:

In 1993, Audrey Walton put $200 million of Wal-Mart stock into a pair of “grantor retained annuity trusts” or GRATs, to benefit her daughters, Ann and Nancy. [...] the GRAT pays an annuity back to the person who set up the trust, rather than to a charity. The trusts were set up to last for two years, and to pay out $217 million in stock and cash to Audrey Walton. If the stock rose in value so that money was left over at the end, it would go to her daughters tax free.

Here’s the catch: Walton claimed she owed no gift tax when she set up the trusts, because, under the IRS’s valuation formula, nothing would remain for her daughters. She claimed, in essence, she was just shifting money out of one pocket and into another, with no tax consequences.

The result is a bet with the IRS that anyone would take -- one that tax planners sometimes describe as a “heads I win, tails we tie.”


(It just seems so grubby, though. I like my aristocrats to be classy and behave like they're shouldering a heavy burden of social responsibility when they gravely inform us that we will just have to make do with cake, eh?)
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:54 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


"And, in many cases, there's also a good amount of work putting into preparing beneficiaries for wealth."

So? There was a lot of work put into Louis XVI's education, but that doesn't mean the revolutionaries were wrong.
posted by klangklangston at 8:57 AM on September 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Can you elaborate on this?

Happy to. There's a good amount of anxiety around the passing of wealth to descendants; as noted, people - especially those that have created the wealth or added to wealth that they've been given - really don't want their kids to be ruined by that wealth or to just sit around coffee shops ruminating on existence. They generally want their kids to make productive use of it, they want their kids to be philanthropic, to manage their wealth effectively, to have good jobs, etc. And they're perfectly aware of how inheriting wealth is capable of turning kids into douchebags.

The upshot of that is that we see that anxiety in the documents of sucession themselves (the words "productive citizen" do get used quite a bit), and there's a thriving mini-industry of psychologists and others that consult with wealthier families to try to inculcate in and pass to their kids the values of thrift, philanthropy, and hard work.
posted by jpe at 9:00 AM on September 13, 2013


Audrey Walton put $200 million of Wal-Mart stock...etc.

But it's all perfectly legal! It's just too bad that laws materialize out of thin air and sometimes bear no relation to what a normal person would consider sensible or just, but we've all got to play the hand we're dealt, eh?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:00 AM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


There was a lot of work put into Louis XVI's education, but that doesn't mean the revolutionaries were wrong.

I've reread my comments, and still don't see anything where I said they were. Maybe you should take your internets back to the shop, because they appear to be showing you comments that don't exist.
posted by jpe at 9:01 AM on September 13, 2013


jpe, I can agree that those efforts exist, but not that they are effective.
posted by Miko at 9:01 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sometimes they are effective, sometimes they aren't. But certainly the efforts put into it make a difference, as I can attest from first hand knowledge having worked w/ these people for the last decade.
posted by jpe at 9:03 AM on September 13, 2013


Sometimes they are effective, sometimes they aren't.

What data supports the idea that sometimes they are effective?

I understand you have personal experience, but since it is your business, your saying that it is effective is sort of like when my dentist tells me I could use more dental work.
posted by Miko at 9:04 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Miko, my clients are typically the people that are working to pass wealth. I don't have a pecuniary interest in what happens to their wealth after they pass away.

re: empirical data: I don't have any. The googles are thataway, though, if you want to try to scrounge around for it.
posted by jpe at 9:09 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Honestly, jpe, I don't give a rat's ass what measures are taken to try to ensure that the inheritors of massive economic power use that power responsibly, because I don't want them to inherit that power in the first place.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:10 AM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Goodnight metafilter!

/Someone had too.
posted by Mezentian at 9:14 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


re: empirical data: I don't have any. The googles are thataway, though, if you want to try to scrounge around for it.

I have no empirical data to add about the difficulty of philanthropy, but to throw some more anecdata on the fire here's Jon Ronson writing for GQ in July of last year (republished in his most recent book): Amber Waves of Green

Ronson interviews a person in each of the different quintiles of wealth. (Ignore the non-normal distribution in that curve.) He characterizes the wealthiest person as being likeable, devoted to secret philanthropy, and angry that people feel entitled.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:41 AM on September 13, 2013


Of course wealthy people can be nice, productive citizens. But when they decide not to be, unlike your average asshole, they become assholes whose wealth bequeaths them enormous power; the power to get out of scrapes via connections, influence, and good lawyers, and the power to do harm to others via political influence, investment in and support of destructive industries, and abuse of those they employ.

Not to mention that the accumulation of wealth, in itself, almost always (and perhaps simply always) entails involvement in some kind of environmental degredation or sweatshop abuses. It is very hard to make a whole lot of money and not be involved in something unethical in some way or another; and of course the problem is that the call of the money you can make will be much louder than the voice of your conscience.

Power corrupts. Wealth creates power. And even if most of the very wealthy are wonderful selfless philanthropists, even a few sociopaths can do enormous, long-lasting damage.

But, we value freedom in our society, and we are not communists, so we do not condemn the wealthy for being wealthy, per se. That doesn't mean we have to worship them, or be blind to the damage that accumulation of wealth to a tiny percentage of the population can do to the society as a whole, or ignore it when they use their wealth to escape the obligations of being a citizen in this country by paying taxes and obeying the law.

Money needs to move around; when half of it is locked away in the vaults of the rich so that no descendant of theirs ever has to take a moment's worry over anything, then you get stagnation. It's bad for the health of the society.
posted by emjaybee at 9:59 AM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't have a strong preference for the estate tax over other revenue-equivalent taxation schemes, and would be fine with getting rid of it in a revenue-neutral way by, say, increasing the income tax rate at the higher income brackets, creating new brackets as necessary (e.g at the $1 million, $10 million, $100 million, etc. levels) to capture the revenue lost by phasing out the estate tax.

Of course, I'm under no illusion that the wealthy would be happy with this trade, but I'd certainly take it. For one thing, a key feature of progressive taxation is that it deals with the diminishing marginal utility of income, and an estate tax only hits the second through Nth generations of the wealth, not the first. I'd rather have the money put to productive use while the wealthy are alive and let them pass on whatever they'd like to tax-free.

Also, because the estate tax is a lot easier to monkey with in Congress than the income tax is, it's more likely that such a scheme would be resistant to political change.

For all their talk about the "death tax", it seems to me the rich are more concerned with their overall level of taxation, not necessarily that it's taking money away from their kids, so if they hate the estate tax so much, by all means, let's take their money now instead of waiting for them to die.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:01 AM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


"I've reread my comments, and still don't see anything where I said they were. Maybe you should take your internets back to the shop, because they appear to be showing you comments that don't exist."

I'm sorry, your sycophancy for the rich might be causing you to miss my point: The idea that the rich are in any way "prepared for wealth" in a way that is socially justified is a fantasy. Were they so prepared, we wouldn't have the wildly inequitable distribution of wealth that we have now, QED. Do you have anything that's not just based on the impressions of courtiers?

GINI 2010 US: 46.9; GINI 1780 France: 54.6.
posted by klangklangston at 11:21 AM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


More qualitative data about the ways in which philanthropy is inadequate way for redistributing wealth would be welcome. An out-of-context GINI coefficient and the word "QED" don't qualify.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:47 AM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Read that Amber Waves of Green article. Interesting how Nick (who got insanely lucky) seems to have a decent grasp on reality, but Wayne sounds almost totally divorced from it. Although I can't help but wonder if Nick is actually doing anything with that cash. Most rich people seem to just totally lack vision.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:02 PM on September 13, 2013


Aristocracy is just bigotry. Period. It's the idea that there is a group of people who are "better"--simply by birthright--than others (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary).

The only people I know ("in real life") who support the idea of an aristocracy are (like most of us) "common as muck," and wouldn't be given the time of day by an actual "aristocrat" (speaking in terms of power, family, connections and wealth, not of the ridiculous idea of innate genetic superiority). Said "nobles" would laugh at the idea that you could buy your way into their company.

The same group of folks who definitely aren't "poor" but instead "temporarily embarrassed millionaires," often believe they're from "noble stock," and if only the world would fix itself, they'd be back in their "rightful place."
posted by maxwelton at 12:07 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Miko, my clients are typically the people that are working to pass wealth. I don't have a pecuniary interest in what happens to their wealth after they pass away.

No, your interest is continuing to receive their custom in the present, and thus in convincing them that you sincerely understand their concerns and interests and reassuring them that steps they can take will have outcomes they desire. To them, your value here is your seeming knowledge that some financial structure you can create will help determine the paths of their children's lives after their deaths.

re: empirical data: I don't have any.

Huh. I would have imagined that it would you would want to know that the structures you are selling your clients are effective.

It just seems to me that the idea that portioning out a trust over time, or requiring drug tests or a lack of convictions or what have you for disbursements, are feel-good solutions, but these assumptions don't seem to have ever been tested or substantiated with an evidence-based inquiry. (And I did Google; just thought someone whose profession that is might have some evidence handy to support the assumption. I guess that was naive...)
posted by Miko at 12:08 PM on September 13, 2013


"More qualitative data about the ways in which philanthropy is inadequate way for redistributing wealth would be welcome. An out-of-context GINI coefficient and the word "QED" don't qualify."

Sorry, is there any evidence to suggest that philanthropy is an adequate way to redistribute wealth? I think you're mistaking where the burden of proof lies.
posted by klangklangston at 12:24 PM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, it's not like philanthropy hasn't always existed, through the millennia of squalor and oppression.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:29 PM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


To be fair, philanthropy is a perfectly decent way to redistribute wealth. Whether it's adequate or not depends on the amount of wealth that you want to be redistributed for a baseline of "Adequacy."
posted by corb at 12:37 PM on September 13, 2013


It's a discussion we can have if we recognize that the uneven accumulation of surplus wealth in the first place is already a redistribution. So we can talk about adequate ways to distribute the wealth of a given society or population. In that discussion, we might find that philanthropy is not, in fact, a perfectly decent way to distribute wealth. It might produce effects opposite to that which the society has determined it wants.
posted by Miko at 12:38 PM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


philanthropy is a perfectly decent way to redistribute wealth

What, exactly, do you mean by "perfectly decent"?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:43 PM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


What, exactly, do you mean by "perfectly decent"

Philanthropy takes wealth from one group and moves it to another "less fortunate" group. The degree to which this happens, and whether it's good or not, is disputed. But to say it's not redistributive I think would be incorrect.
posted by corb at 12:44 PM on September 13, 2013


Philanthropy takes wealth from one group and moves it to another "less fortunate" group

Funny, so does the accumulation of wealth.

to say it's not redistributive I think would be incorrect.

You're not getting it. How did the wealth get distributed more to some people than others in the first place?
posted by Miko at 12:46 PM on September 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yes, all methods of redistribution are redistributive. To say that a method of redistribution is not redistributive I think would be incorrect. But why would someone say that?

The point is that social justice and fairness is more than a billionaire writing some checks to charity.
posted by leopard at 12:49 PM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sorry, is there any evidence to suggest that philanthropy is an adequate way to redistribute wealth? I think you're mistaking where the burden of proof lies.

I'm not trying to get into arguments with anybody here, and would love to see more facts and citations brought into the thread by anyone. In retrospect, when I first saw jpe accused of being a "sycophant", I should have simply flagged and moved on out of the thread. I will now.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:51 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


To say that a method of redistribution is not redistributive I think would be incorrect. But why would someone say that?

I tend to find that in much contemporary usage, people using this term only identify the passage of wealth from wealthier to poorer people as redistributive, ignoring that the passage of wealth in the other direction is also a redistribution.
posted by Miko at 12:52 PM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


philanthropy is a perfectly decent way to redistribute wealth

Philanthropy takes wealth from one group and moves it to another "less fortunate" group

Purchasing millions of dollars of art from other wealthy people and putting it in a public museum may be philanthropic, but I fail to see how it redistributes any wealth to "less fortunate" groups. Some forms of philanthropy do, but it's easy to think of other examples that don't.
posted by randomnity at 12:54 PM on September 13, 2013


Miko -- yeah, people often assume that market outcomes produce a "natural distribution" and then anything else that moves money out of the hands of the rich (taxes, charity) is some contrived "redistribution." I was just confused by corb's definition of "perfectly decent."
posted by leopard at 12:57 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


people often assume that market outcomes produce a "natural distribution" and then anything else that moves money out of the hands of the rich (taxes, charity) is some contrived "redistribution."

They think this because it is the core message of American Exceptionalism, the drumbeat of which is unceasing.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:11 PM on September 13, 2013


As for aristocracy, the blunt fact is that any advantage that comes by accident of birth is unearned. I don't think it's wrong to be born rich or white or male or straight or first-world, but they do require the acknowledgement that those advantages are actively opposed to the idea of fairness and merit. Using those advantages to preserve those advantages is something that is both against the interests of the public and even, ultimately, the interests of those who are born to those advantages. The compromise is that for obvious advantages like wealth, we, as a society, would still find it moral for wealthy people to pass on the MAJORITY of their fortunes to their heirs, however, skirting that is actively anti-social and is pretty justifiably resented. Resentment plus desperation ends up being destabilizing, and the distortions in income distribution under the current system are unsustainable.

Folks who were born wealthy really didn't build that.

(As a side note, it's always weird to me in Affirmative Action discussions that there's always this, "What if that guy just got the job because he's black?" that never gets answered with something that's much more common: "What if you just got that job because you're white?" Same thing happens with wealth — unfair advantages mean that the best person for any given job won't necessarily get it.)
posted by klangklangston at 1:42 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


If the estate tax was 10 or 15% rather than almost half, I bet the government would collect the same or more, because perhaps there wouldn't be a huge industry of avoiding it, even at the cost of tying up funds for decades
posted by knoyers at 2:59 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Money that the rich spend goes to things the rich are interested in. That's true whether you're talking about philanthropy or money spent on leisure and life.

In other words the rich subsidize the exclusive infrastructure of the rich. It's practically inherent to the idea of the rich having money, not matter their intentions or education.
posted by tychotesla at 3:10 PM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


As for aristocracy, the blunt fact is that any advantage that comes by accident of birth is unearned. I don't think it's wrong to be born rich or white or male or straight or first-world, but they do require the acknowledgement that those advantages are actively opposed to the idea of fairness and merit.

I would argue that it was earned - just by someone far up the chain. At some point, one or more people earned the advantages - except for white or male or straight of course - with the intention of passing them on to their children. Thus, the children are simply incidental points along the happiness of the first person's happiness.

If you believe in some form of life after death, then the idea is that it makes you happy to look down on your children and know that they are doing well, that you have provided it for them. You can bask in their happiness. If you do not, the idea is that you can die happy, knowing generations to come are provided for.

To go too far down the rabbit hole of trying to seek for a world where no one has any initial advantages, where everyone starts out with exactly the same opportunities and chances and resources, no matter what their parents have done, seems to me like some sort of Stygian hell - an eternal Groundhog Day, where you must repeat the same actions over and over without it ever having an effect.
posted by corb at 3:14 PM on September 13, 2013


I mean, to me, it seems: what's the point of life, if you can't leave anything to your children? Just to have fun and then die? What is the point or purpose in that? To be erased from the earth with no continuance? Why would anyone want to live that way?
posted by corb at 3:16 PM on September 13, 2013


If the estate tax was 10 or 15% rather than almost half, I bet the government would collect the same or more, because perhaps there wouldn't be a huge industry of avoiding it, even at the cost of tying up funds for decades

Yes, because if there is one thing the ultra-rich are known for it is willingly paying more taxes than they have to. Here is a more reasonable proposition: if the estate tax was 100% once you pass the cut off, I bet the government would collect twice as much revenue from the estate tax.
posted by Balna Watya at 3:19 PM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


There's also room for making the {world, country, state, city, region around you} better in that, I'd say.

I mean, that seems like about as relevant of a "point or purpose of life": Was my presence a net positive? Did I add more to the world than I took?

Limiting the scale of my goal to hypothetical children seems so... limited, for lack of a better term.
posted by CrystalDave at 3:21 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean, to me, it seems: what's the point of life, if you can't leave anything to your children? Just to have fun and then die? What is the point or purpose in that? To be erased from the earth with no continuance? Why would anyone want to live that way?

I'm sure there can be a middle ground between 0% and 100%. I don't think anyone was suggesting a 100% inheritance tax.
posted by oceanjesse at 3:23 PM on September 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Also, I do not doubt jpe. Try rereading their comments without grar wrestling it's way out of your mouth like the phallic pharyngeal jaws of an Alien and you should find that they didn't actually say anything particularly loaded or snark-worthy.

I've had a fair amount of contact with the rich and super rich (because I am poor starving artist, go figure) and I've met scads of the rich who worry about how to raise their kids with great advantage and without spoiling them. It seems to work sometimes. Although this will, of course, vary drastically depending on which culture you're from. In no way does that mean that I think it's good that they have that much money, and I have yet to hear jpe say that either.
posted by tychotesla at 3:25 PM on September 13, 2013


I mean, to me, it seems: what's the point of life, if you can't leave anything to your children? Just to have fun and then die? What is the point or purpose in that? To be erased from the earth with no continuance? Why would anyone want to live that way?

If it eases your mind any, there's an exclusion of about $10M that a couple can use to pass wealth on to the next generation; it's only the part above that amount that is taxed.
posted by MoonOrb at 3:35 PM on September 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


"I would argue that it was earned - just by someone far up the chain."

As this would preclude it being earned by the person it benefits, that would make it unearned by definition. Trying to claim otherwise is sophistry.

"Thus, the children are simply incidental points along the happiness of the first person's happiness."

So? Given that they're dead, incidental points would be pretty irrelevant to their happiness.

"To go too far down the rabbit hole of trying to seek for a world where no one has any initial advantages, where everyone starts out with exactly the same opportunities and chances and resources, no matter what their parents have done, seems to me like some sort of Stygian hell - an eternal Groundhog Day, where you must repeat the same actions over and over without it ever having an effect."

That's just nonsense, honestly. It's not like we'd vaporize everything around in order to level the playing field.

And you're basically arguing that it's good that people get unearned advantages. You exempt being straight, white and male for some reason, but that's pretty arbitrary — it can certainly be argued that white privilege is maintained in large part by the desire to have white children start out with it. The only salient difference is that wealth is more malleable than other forms of unearned advantage, but the amount of distortion and unfairness it introduces is inversely proportionate to its malleability.

For example, taxing the rich to make sure that everyone — rich or poor — gets a great education would not be a Stygian hell of eternal recurrence. You're shivering from fantods.
posted by klangklangston at 3:35 PM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


"I've had a fair amount of contact with the rich and super rich (because I am poor starving artist, go figure) and I've met scads of the rich who worry about how to raise their kids with great advantage and without spoiling them. It seems to work sometimes."

The problem with this is the same as the problem with relying on voluntary charity: It does not, on the whole, work. I know plenty of individual rich people who are pretty great (though I know manifestly fewer people who grew up rich who are pretty great), but it's far more effective to set policy goals than to count on rich parents somehow inculcating their scions with a healthy perspective, especially toward their fellow, poorer, citizens.
posted by klangklangston at 3:38 PM on September 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Absolutely. Even my own somewhat positive experiences of rich parents teaching their kids good skills comes from a place that's rare (tech boom in Seattle) and rife with its own problems of privilege that are further fertilized by entrenched wealth.
posted by tychotesla at 4:00 PM on September 13, 2013


For example, taxing the rich to make sure that everyone — rich or poor — gets a great education would not be a Stygian hell of eternal recurrence.

I'm sorry, I may have misread you - it seemed like you were saying that no matter what the current state of belief is for most, that you thought inheritances at all were inherently unfair and should not exist.
posted by corb at 4:47 PM on September 13, 2013


I mean, to me, it seems: what's the point of life, if you can't leave anything to your children? Just to have fun and then die? What is the point or purpose in that? To be erased from the earth with no continuance? Why would anyone want to live that way?

Also, the argument implicit in your statement here--that people who don't have children lead meaningless existences--is frankly pretty offensive.
posted by MoonOrb at 5:40 PM on September 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


Also, the argument implicit in your statement here--that people who don't have children lead meaningless existences--is frankly pretty offensive.

Par for the course, really. I happen to think inheritances are inherently unfair, but fairness has absolutely zero to do with policy. Do you want a world with a de facto aristocracy or not? Go from there, fairness be damned. No one with millions is going to suffer because they don't have hundreds of millions or billions.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:15 PM on September 13, 2013


I would argue that it was earned - just by someone far up the chain. At some point, one or more people earned the advantages

From what were these advantages made? How did some people manage to garner more share of the available resources - more "advantages" - than others did? When we say something was "earned," who ended up with less to provide the one who "earned" something with more? What structures disenfranchised some people from the benefit of hteir own earnings so as to provide others with more available to "earn"?

Just something to ponder. I'm with those who wouldn't tax away all inheritance, but who also wouldn't bother coming up with elaborate fictions about the nature of human existence to justify why those inheritances morally and rightfully belong to those who receive them. It happens, but only just because it's just the way we've structured things. There's no reason to believe it's ordained by heaven and is the rightest way of all rightness.
posted by Miko at 7:56 PM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


JohnnyGunn: "Why should your assets be taxed upon your death?"

Because it is good for the society that allowed you to accumulate those assets in the first place.


corb: "I mean, to me, it seems: what's the point of life, if you can't leave anything to your children? Just to have fun and then die? What is the point or purpose in that? To be erased from the earth with no continuance? Why would anyone want to live that way?"

Americans can leave millions to their children tax free and then additional millions that is taxed at IMO a reasonable rate. Seriously if you can't make your way in the world with a couple million + 70% of anything over that plus all the advantages of growing up wealthy there is something seriously wrong with you.

Geez to put it in perspective the vast majority of Americans manage to live their whole lives without ever making as much money as the tax free limit. IE: If you are given the tax free limit you can live a perfectly ordinary life without ever earning another dime even without investing the gift amount. Why would anyone need anything more?
posted by Mitheral at 8:02 PM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Mitheral: "Why would anyone need anything more?"

So they can demonstrate to everyone else that they are as superior to the poors as they "know" they are. It gives them a sense of accomplishment without that pesky crap like adding value to society.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:16 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seriously if you can't make your way in the world with a couple million + 70% of anything over that plus all the advantages of growing up wealthy there is something seriously wrong with you.

I think this is not malicious, but perhaps slightly ignorant of what I'm actually trying to express.

Even if you try to do it looking at upper class, but not super-rich numbers - let's assume, say, you start by owning a nice 5 bedroom house in Park Slope worth 4.2 million. Let's assume you had three kids and a guest bedroom - which is by no means obscene wealth. And let us assume that you would like your children and your children's children to enjoy living this way, even if they fall on hard times.

The family home, plus either a similar house or the equivalent cash for the other two children, already add to 12.6 million, which puts you over the cap, even assuming you don't have to pay tax on the art and furniture inside, which you actually do. Let's say, 13 million. We're still at relatively small numbers. If there's a cap of ten million, then that three million needs to start at 6 million to end up with enough money for your kids to pay the tax. Now there's property tax, maintenance, living expenses, etc. We've all seen, and some have complained, about the articles talking about how people who bring in a million dollars a year can still have a hard time. Assuming it stays stable, let's assume, given older births among the wealthy, your firstborn and sibs live an additional 40 or so years, a need for 120 million - which means you had to start with an additional 240 million to get all this going. We're now at 256 million - a quarter of a billion - dollars.

Now we get to the grandchildren.

Assuming estate tax is still half the estate, you're going to need to do this all over again - except, if estate tax is 50%, that means that the initial outlay over tax cap is going to be halved. So even assuming it keeps pace with inflation - assuming each child has two children, you're at 480 million once you're done with the halving. Which means you had to start with 960 million. And you're only two generations down. Assuming each child has two children and so on, by the time you get to the fourth generation, my numbers have you you needing to be working with approximately 30 billion. And the fourth generation is not very far. You probably met the kids that are benefiting from this.

Now, of course, if you're leaving this in cash, there are going to be capital gains, etc. Ideally your progeny should be living off the interest, which might cut some of it out. But you're already looking at insane numbers. Even assuming they could cut the total number in half, you're still looking at 15 billion - just to give your fourth generation an upper class - not even eating golden swans and having servants and all that - life.

So that's why the ten million cap can be radically insufficient for even just relatively wealthy people rather than "the super rich".
posted by corb at 9:38 PM on September 13, 2013


You lost me right...here.

Let's say, 13 million. We're still at relatively small numbers.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:43 PM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Caveat: my numbers may be totally off: if the guy who does estate planning in this thread wants to correct them, please be my guest as to how much it would take to maintain this standard of living 4 generations in.
posted by corb at 9:44 PM on September 13, 2013


What a bizarre world you've constructed in your head, where the obscenely wealthy calculate and amass tremendous, world-altering fortunes so that 80 years in the future a few dozen people can have modest homes in Park Slope.

What the fuck.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:50 PM on September 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


corb: "So that's why the ten million cap can be radically insufficient for even just relatively wealthy people rather than "the super rich"."

On the assumption you're not trolling us:

I don't know what the life style of park slope is like; 4 million here could buy you a couple sections of land on a major lake with a house big enough that you'd have to hire help to keep it maintained. Or your kids could move to a middle class neighbourhood where the average house price is 400K and they could each live like fricking kings on a mere 2.5 million a piece if they do nothing at all to increase the wealth handed to them on a silver platter.

And that's just the tax free portion; it's not like the estate tax is 100%; the government only takes a portion of the estate well after you get into "fuck you" levels of money.
posted by Mitheral at 10:28 PM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Steely-eyed Missile Man: "What a bizarre world you've constructed in your head, where the obscenely wealthy calculate and amass tremendous, world-altering fortunes so that 80 years in the future a few dozen people can have modest homes in Park Slope."

Never entering into this pathological equation, of course, are the untold numbers of people who would be helped immensely by the proceeds of the tax, who just weren't lucky enough to have a wealthy parent or grandparent. When the standard is "my kids, their kids, and beyond should never be any worse off than me", what is really being said is (a) "they all deserve it because ME" and (b) "many others do not deserve it because ME."
posted by tonycpsu at 10:44 PM on September 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I don't know what the life style of park slope is like; 4 million here could buy you a couple sections of land on a major lake with a house big enough that you'd have to hire help to keep it maintained.

Yes, wealth is absolutely relative - for the amount of wealth a middle class person might own even in those lower-priced areas of America, you could live like kings in some parts of Latin America and probably elsewhere as well. Here in New York City, where I personally live and am most familiar with, it is actually really expensive to live, particularly in single-family homes. I know this because I came back from the Army and set out to buy, based on what my buddies were buying elsewhere, and found that even the modest houses I looked at and wanted were around 600,000. We're talking three to four bedrooms with a decent, but not large, yard. I picked five bedrooms because that's what I personally would like to have as my ultimate realistic goal, and it seemed a good example - better than the wild dreams of having fifteen bedroom mansions with enough room for in-house staff and such. "Fuck you" money here, especially if you're living well, would also probably involve enough money to hire nannies, put kids through private school, some of which can cost 27,000$ a year for first grade, etc. And since everyone else is also living in one of the most expensive cities in America, everything costs more.

The easy solution is to say "move out!" And a lot of people do. But if you're trying to make a better life for your kids, you're not going to want them to have to move away from the place they love in order to live it. I know I feel conflicted all the time for leaving Brooklyn because I wanted my kid to live in a house.
posted by corb at 11:13 PM on September 13, 2013


So that's why the ten million cap can be radically insufficient for even just relatively wealthy people rather than "the super rich".

As good a summary of "Fuck you, got mine" as I've ever seen. Fuck the idea of society, fuck the idea of nation, fuck the idea of civilization. Greed all the money for all eternity. A dream fit only for the sociopathic.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:21 PM on September 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


corb: "The easy solution is to say "move out!" And a lot of people do."

And many more than that never have a prayer of moving there in the first place, precisely because the wealthy are in the position of choosing between places with five or fifteen bedrooms, and many of them are in that position because they were handed down a bunch of money from a dead grandparent they never knew.

The cost of those extra bedrooms could be peoples' food, clothing, or shelter, but to you, they're just a rhetorical device designed to show that there are uber-rich who make the rich look poor by comparison, as if that trite logic falsifies the many sound arguments made by many in this thread asking you why a rich person's descendants deserve the fifth bedroom more than someone with no relation deserves to eat. Is there some sort of magic element inside the genes of the wealthy that makes their children, grandchildren, etc. more worthwhile to society?
posted by tonycpsu at 11:30 PM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeh. There's a certain point at which the desire to prepare against calamity causes calamity.
posted by tychotesla at 11:32 PM on September 13, 2013


as if that trite logic falsifies the many sound arguments made by many in this thread asking you why a rich person's descendants deserve the fifth bedroom more than someone with no relation deserves to eat.

There are really, I am discovering, no "sound arguments" that could convince on this issue, from either side, because everyone is emotionally invested in their ideas and values.

From my side, the idea that anyone could view wanting their children to prosper as a bad thing is completely a "The Aliens Are Talking" idea. It is fundamentally opposed to what I consider one of the main purposes of life - the thing that I would struggle and gladly die for. I don't know if you don't have kids, or just really are that alien, but I don't think I'm ever going to understand you or you me.

It's not about what people "deserve" or "who's more worthwhile to society" - which, to be frank, is a dangerous road to walk down. But it's about love. It's about loyalty. It's about family. It's about clawing out a safe haven to bring your cubs to in an unstable world. It's about tradition and continuity and a sense of history stretching backwards and forwards and your duty to it.
posted by corb at 11:45 PM on September 13, 2013


No one wants your children not to prosper. The disconnect here is that your conception of the amount of money it takes one to proper is what most people would consider unthinkable. The example of the house served to underscore how out of touch this was, not convince anyone that you're being reasonable.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:55 PM on September 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think it takes an unimaginable or unthinkable amount of money to support all of your descendants fully for generations. I happened to run the numbers for that figure, but honestly, even more modest figures would have started to run into the high millions once you get to the fourth generation. Even if you start with assuming they need, say, 100K a year operating expenses - which to be perfectly honest, is what a lot of mefites around here make or under what they make - you still run into millions each on only the first generation alone. You still are well over the cap by the time you get to the second generation.

I don't think I personally am going to be able to support my children's children to the fourth generation. I'm not sure I'll even be able to more than partially support them down to the second, or the first. But that makes me sad, because under less stringent taxation schemes, I could absolutely guarantee a big house for my family - big enough to house all those great-great grandchildren inside it or on the property - up to all of those generations, without spending much money. Americans tax specifically to break up wealth, so this concept of familial living is simply not cost-effective, because the property tax would be insane and calculated at what it would cost for me to rent all that space.
posted by corb at 12:02 AM on September 14, 2013


The utility of ensuring the financial security of up to three generations of our offspring into the future just doesn't measure up to the value of trying to ensure that everyone in our society, today and in the future, has a fair shot. The system you propose helps to guarantee that your descendants, by virtue only of sharing a bloodline with you, remain advantaged, while it is that much harder for everyone else without that advantage to get ahead.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:10 AM on September 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


If it is only about supporting my descendants for all eternity, then I'm justified in simply killing you and your family and taking all that you owned.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:27 AM on September 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


"I think it takes an unimaginable or unthinkable amount of money to support all of your descendants fully for generations."

o_0

If that's your goal, it is in the interest of everyone in society to oppose you attaining it. There's no way you can argue for such narcissistic selfishness and not recognize that if that morality holds true, every single other person is justified in doing whatever they can to prevent it. I know you get squeamish about imaginary violence toward the rich, but that selfishness causes real death and misery to the poor. It can even be self defense to use violence then, especially if we continue the idea of making a better life for one's children.

I still tend to believe that things in America can be righted with organizing and the ballot, that we'll always get around to doing the right thing eventually because we're founded on Enlightenment ideals. But I understand why other people aren't.

People share resources and society because it works out better for everyone than going it alone, but that requires everyone to recognize that social contract. Otherwise, we're all in a state of war against each other, and there's nothing to say that it's wrong to kill the rich.

(And as for what I hope to leave behind: I hope that we're able to make the world a better place, and be remembered for that. That allows both my kids and your kids to live in a better, more free and more fair world.)
posted by klangklangston at 12:32 AM on September 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


I happened to run the numbers for that figure, but honestly, even more modest figures would have started to run into the high millions once you get to the fourth generation.

You accounted for the growth of this money through compound interest, right? I'm guessing maybe not,because the "relatively small" sum of $13M that you propose a family should be able to keep all of (rather than, like, the ~$12.1M that you'd keep after estate taxation) will grow to over $5 BILLION dollars by compounding in the 100 years it takes your family to reach its fourth generation. This is compounding only at 6% interest, by the way, well under the historical return of the S&P 500.

We're talking Dr. Evil money here.

What you're saying is just wacky.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:49 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


If that's your goal, it is in the interest of everyone in society to oppose you attaining it. There's no way you can argue for such narcissistic selfishness and not recognize that if that morality holds true, every single other person is justified in doing whatever they can to prevent it.

I think this is a cultural disconnect.

Americans, I think, tend to focus on their nuclear family only. For me, caring for your family above and below is the opposite of selfishness. It is your duty to provide for the generations before and after you as the generations before you have provided for you. The generations in my family before me, with one or two exceptions, have done their duty. It is my job to return that investment. I don't know if this is a Hispanic thing or an immigrant thing or just a not-American-culture thing.

But I think the point where someone I usually respect and have personally asked to remember circumstances in talking about murdering the rich, is talking about how it's totally justified, is the point where I'm out of the thread.
posted by corb at 7:00 AM on September 14, 2013


let us assume that you would like your children and your children's children to enjoy living this way, even if they fall on hard times.

Corb...this whole scenario is completely unrealistic. Fantasyland.

You sound like you're having trouble understanding that the things you want "based on" what your friends are buying are inaccessible to you at your income level. You made choices. You want more liquid resources? Then you can't live in Brooklyn. That's the market doing that, not taxes.

under less stringent taxation schemes, I could absolutely guarantee a big house for my family

...by reducing the possibility of other families to have a big, or even adequate, house. But even more basically, it's not my responsibility to give your family a big house. If your children are fed, sheltered, safe, healthy, and being educated, I have no further responsibility to your children and do not care to pay more in taxes so that you can live even better.

it's about love. It's about loyalty. It's about family. It's about clawing out a safe haven to bring your cubs to in an unstable world. It's about tradition and continuity and a sense of history stretching backwards and forwards and your duty to it.

Oh, dear God. This romantic stuff sounds nice, and everyone wants good things for their family, but please, don't let's dress up plain old material greed with family, love, and tradition.

My family, after generations of good living in a good nation and plenty of opportunity which I enjoy the fruits of, have nothing to leave me. Do they not love me? Do I not have a strong family? Can we no trace our ancestry back to before the American Revolution and into the various European traditions from which we descend? We can do and have done all those things. My family is wonderful, happy, strong, has a solid sense of identity, supports one another, remembers and celebrates its traditions. Love, tradition, and continuity are not dependent on amassing such material wealth that our descendants can consume disproportionate amounts of resources. You show a confusion of the material with the immaterial here. You are going to the hardware store for apples.

Also, the idea of "safe haven," is, as I noted, pretty much a fiction unless you can arrive at the stratospheric income levels which you and I really have no hope of achieving. If the aristocrats of Europe can become "poor," then why can't your family, no matter how lucky you think you can get turning a middle-class income into 240 million dollars, or whatever your fairy castle looked like? There's depreciation. There's war. There's market instability. There's lousy investments. There's natural disaster. There are family squabbles. Your family isn't likely to do any better than any other families in history, and you can't do anything about it once you're dead.

I could absolutely guarantee a big house for my family - big enough to house all those great-great grandchildren inside it or on the property - up to all of those generations, without spending much money.

A pretty fantasy. New England offers some enlightening examples here. New England is absolutely full of massive old piles of homesteads in which some bright young thing in 1900 shared your vision of a future Family Homestead brimming with generations of descendants. Well, when it turned out that descendants did not want to live there - because they wanted to lead their own lives, follow their own dreams, move out and see the world, meet partners, pursue a career - they left. Eventually, the descendants get together and sell the old family place so they can do what they want with the proceeds. This story is common as dirt out here; it's why old houses are torn down and their multi-acre lots turned into 2- and 3-bedroom townhouse condo units with enclosed garages.

We're talking Dr. Evil money here.

Only if none of it is spent, and everything corb talks about wanting for her descendants is about spending - about stuff.

this concept of familial living is simply not cost-effective, because the property tax would be insane and calculated at what it would cost for me to rent all that space.

That's kind of a fiction, too, and indicates you don't really accept the reality of the numbers. It's very common to hear "property taxes are so high!" but rarely are people setting that against the cash value of the income from property or the property itself. When people point to property tax as a reason for letting go of a giant old house, there is more to the story than that. They no longer want to invest in maintaining the house at its actual market value, is what that means. If you live in the US, you are already willing to support some basic concepts of social welfare as the bottom-line platform for growth and the parameters of your existence in an abundantly safe and well-provided nation. If you didn't have the taxes, you'd be contracting privately for your water, trash pickup, and policing services and, in the end, getting less diversity of services for your dollar, and the value of your home would also fluctuate wildly depending on whether the neighbors were opting into similar services, or just letting their properties go derelict. If you don't want to pay the property tax, the property has lost its value to you, which is why you should sell it. But it doesn't mean the house is not valuable at market rates.

The reason familial living isn't pragmatic is not money. It's that the broad, long-term (over two centuries) trend of American domesticity is neolocal and increasingly nuclear. Americans don't like to share space, and do it only under duress, and they're not that good at resolving intrafamily property disputes.

I believe it's important to question the mechanisms that make us think that one family, one state, one nation, one government, one church, one race, etc., is more important and worthy of investment than the other. Of course we have more wishes and emotional attachments to our own families, and we do what we can for them. And I certainly do think that people use income and investment to try to increase their standard of living and build up a helpful nest egg for the future support of their families. However, I don't believe in looking to create total support for descendants. And I don't agree that I should allow a reduction in tax revenue so that others can live in even greater luxury - especially when their greed reaches so far beyond their own visible lifetime as to ask that we make cuts in our shared American standard of living so that a few people's own genetic progeny can enjoy more, more, and still more in perpetuity -- because that conflicts with everyone else's goals of also providing opportunity for their progeny. There is no strong moral argument for that.
posted by Miko at 7:01 AM on September 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


I don't know if this is a Hispanic thing or an immigrant thing or just a not-American-culture thing.

It's a you thing. We're talking about taking care of our families above, below, parallel, and also everyone else's families, in the context of all of us having a stronger, wealthier, better country because of our shared investment in it. You're talking about narrowing the window of caring, not widening it.

It continues to amaze me that anyone in the modern world can actually be pro-feudalism.
posted by Miko at 7:02 AM on September 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


It's about clawing out a safe haven to bring your cubs to in an unstable world.

I have lost count of the breathless jeremiads you have posted. You are obsessed with this idea that the world is an incredibly hostile place that is out to grind up you and yours. Guess what; many of this world's problems are directly the outcome of the frankly astonishingly selfish attitude you are displaying here. When everyone says, "fuck you, I need to get mine," everyone gets fucked. The world is only made more unstable by the acquisition of incredible fortunes. The best thing you can do to ensure a stable and safe world for your offspring is to work to reduce inequality.

under less stringent taxation schemes, I could absolutely guarantee a big house for my family

Hang on, I've got your Temporarily Embarassed Millionaire's Club card right here. If you want a less stringent taxation scheme you are free to move to somewhere that doesn't have pesky things like the rule of law and the society paid for by taxation that supports it. This is laying aside both that taxes in the US are at a low point for industrial nations generally and that the US has by far the most billionaires of any country, so your statement that we tax to break up wealth is absurd on its face.

But what's this? Buying a big house for a family to share? I thought we were fantasizing a world where houses vaporized every generation so each child was forced to buy a brand new one.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:07 AM on September 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Another note about "Why can't I just stop paying property taxes and use the money instead to take care of the house?" - That assumes that a house just sits there and acts as a neutral thing, influencing conditions around it not at all. But houses don't do that. They are physical entities and they require protective services (police, fire, codes of danger mitigation to protect the property and safety of others), resource services (electricity, water, gas, waste disposal), engineering/mapping/surveying and connecting services related to larger city projects and which anticipate possible future owners, etc. These are shared systems and the most efficient, cost-effective way to pay for them is also shared. Houses that are not maintained become hazards - economic, safety, health hazards - that threaten to reduce the value of other nearby properties. There is no way to unplug a house from its surrounding context (even off-the-grid houses require certain services so as to protect the public or private resources around them and affected by them). So it is not as though you can just remove a house, and its value and impact on the value of the surrounding community, from its economic context and decide that it no longer must contribute to help replace the resources it takes from the commons.

And don't forget, property tax is offset by the homeowner tax credit and all the other tax and loan advantages of ownership.
posted by Miko at 7:35 AM on September 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think the point where someone I usually respect and have personally asked to remember circumstances in talking about murdering the rich, is talking about how it's totally justified, is the point where I'm out of the thread.

five fresh fish was only deploying your own argument against you. Utterly unmitigated selfishness doesn't sound so great when you're not the beneficiary? Imagine that.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:45 AM on September 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


[One comment deleted; maybe try that again without making it quite so personal?]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:51 AM on September 14, 2013


It seems to me that the best way of making sure that all of my descendants will be secure - even if they are limited by accident of birth or fortune in their mental, physical, or emotional abilities, is to build a society that ensures the basic health and security of all its citizens. That would be a tremendous thing to pass down not only to anyone who happens to be related to me but for other people's children as well. It seems much more sensible than trying to hoard as much as I possibly can in a way that is sure to create weird power dynamics in my own family as well extremely negative and destabilizing effects on the same people I am expecting to peacefully share a society with my family.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:05 AM on September 14, 2013 [14 favorites]


It seems to me that the best way of making sure that all of my descendants will be secure - even if they are limited by accident of birth or fortune in their mental, physical, or emotional abilities, is to build a society that ensures the basic health and security of all its citizens

Very beautifully said.
posted by Miko at 8:14 AM on September 14, 2013


Miko: " Oh, dear God. This romantic stuff sounds nice, and everyone wants good things for their family, but please, don't let's dress up plain old material greed with family, love, and tradition. "

The most nauseating part of this gambit is that the bar for adequately taking care of future generations isn't set at "they'll have a much better shot than the average schmuck*", it's set at "they'll be taken care of." Nevermind that money begets money, so even passing along a mere $1 million to each of your kids is considered insufficient, because my gosh, how could they possibly buy their own 5-bedroom place in New York and take care of their kids with that?

It's as if there is no understanding at all of the fact that your kids entering the rat race with a seven figure head start gives them enough of a built-in advantage that, as long as they have a modicum of desire to do something with their lives, they'll be able to turn it into their own multi-million dollar estates to pass on to their own kids.

Then, as several others have pointed out, there's that inconvenient fact that making it easier for your kids makes it harder for someone else's, especially when you account for the diminishing marginal utility of income. In order for your kid to afford a McMansion, many other peoples' kids wont be able to afford McNuggets. If that sounds like a fair trade to you, then I hope you have a long position on pitchfork futures.

* Of course, we also know that they would have a much better shot than the average schmuck even if they never inherited a dime, just by virtue of the connections their parents have to other powerful, wealthy people who can open doors for them.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:19 AM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


We're talking Dr. Evil money here.

Only if none of it is spent, and everything corb talks about wanting for her descendants is about spending - about stuff.


True--except I deliberately used a low interest rate as to not overstate the point I was trying to make. And I projected only for the next 100 years, a period probably not long enough to cover the full lives of her children's grandchildren, who corb feels an obligation and desire to provide for.

So, we can assume that a lot of this money is spent, and corb's family still preserves some crazy amount of it, pushing this quasi-feudal system another century or so into the future. Which, basically, is what the Walton's are doing--the part of the Bloomsburg article in the FPP shows that a lot of the Walton's money is consumed (for nominally charitable purposes like Alice Walton's art collection/museum), but that much of it isn't, and the part that has grown at some sick rate.

By the way miko I'm not disagreeing with you, and I understand your point that corb is focused on consumption of this money to buy things. I just want to point out that it would be damn near impossible to spend the amount of money this could produce on material things if a family managed it competently. It's that much money. Really, I just was trying to counter corb's argument (I'll paraphrase) that $13M isn't actually a large sum of money when you're concerned with providing for heirs four generations removed. I think that's a dumb argument for a few reasons, but I was taking the tack that even if I were to take the proposition at face value that this is necessary or desirable, $13M is still a sick amount of money. And, by the way, this whole thing is even more ridiculous because the estate tax would still leave corb's family with roughly $12M or more. This isn't some binary proposition where she'd be stripped of all wealth, unable to provide for future generations at all.

I think this is a cultural disconnect.

No. The disconnect is still about the amount of money that you seem to think is required to provide for future generations. American tax policy has always allowed people to pass down property to their heirs, and no one here is arguing that it shouldn't. What I'm arguing and what I suspect others probably agree with, is that it would make sense to have a policy that ensured a person could pass down enough to provide for his heirs, but no more than that. The problem with the Walton family, as the FPP points out, is that they're (lawfully) circumventing the thrust of the estate tax rules: the Waltons could certainly transfer enough wealth to future generations to ensure that the Walton progeny live in high dudgeon for a century or more to come. But it's not desirable for them to transfer the insane amount of wealth that they're doing. It's just too much. Why you're jumping on board to defend people like the Walton family when our tax code would already--even without the loopholes exploited by the Waltons--allow you to adequately provide for the corb family, I have no idea.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:26 AM on September 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


[Flag and move on, or take it to MetaTalk, please. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:19 PM on September 14, 2013


What I'm arguing and what I suspect others probably agree with, is that it would make sense to have a policy that ensured a person could pass down enough to provide for his heirs, but no more than that.

Well, there's plenty of room between "death tax" and "no more than that." There are those of us who are in favor of estate taxes not because they make people less rich, but because they benefit society in a way that is commensurate with any other transfer of wealth, goods or services within that society. I'd happily support a 0% estate tax if I didn't feel like there was so much wiggle room in the current taxation scheme for people to hide those transfers to the detriment of the society that allows them -- if that's an application of the income tax to inheritances, fine; if it's something else that works, fine.
posted by Etrigan at 2:45 PM on September 14, 2013


corb: "Assuming each child has two children and so on, by the time you get to the fourth generation, my numbers have you you needing to be working with approximately 30 billion"

This is situationist performance commenting, right?
posted by meehawl at 8:14 PM on September 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


corb, I tend to agree with you on some topics where many mefits don't... but this isn't a situation where someone is trying to imply that we aren't, or shouldn't be, allowed to provide some stability to one's progeny. I think I see some logic to what you're saying but it seems you're suffering from a severe lack of either connect-the-dots logic or sensibility calibration here.

I'm not going to dive too deeply as others have already made quite sound points but your stance seems to be out of touch with

A) how the current inheritance situation doesn't really impose all that much of a burden when compared to the sociological benefits it provides thus making circumventing it likely a moral (not to mention legal intent, if not letter of the law) failure,

B) the ramifications of the same since the defense of unfettered inherited privilege is a morally slippery-slope that really does have some ugly short- and long-term consequences and implications (social darwinism anyone?), and (perhaps least of all in my book)

C) how, despite the fact that many mefites do fall into a privileged group over say poverty stricken people around the world, the notion that people somehow have the right to, well only if they are wealthy of course because otherwise the discussion is moot, be able to ensure some sort of generational stability unto the nth descendant is inherently broken because of the sort of evil perpetual-economic motion machine it creates.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:02 AM on September 16, 2013


Things that are funny like a brick to the head:
Libertarians who are anti-royalist/anti-monarchy, and of course, also against taxes in general, but estate taxes in particular.


I say this like it's a subset, rather than almost all of them.
This is so common as to be a type, and the utter inability to see that the latter directly leads to the former leaves me pained.

I keep wanting to say - seriously, we've tried Libertarianism many times before, and after a couple of generations, y'know what we call it?
Feudalism.
posted by Elysum at 5:24 PM on September 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


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