Vanguard mutual funds founder Jack Bogle, fresh from advocating for a transaction tax, is now calling for an estate tax, or death tax, the Wall Street Journal reports, adding that William Gates Sr. is also campaigning for the estate tax, which is scheduled to expire temporarily in 2010. It's something that Mr. Gates Sr. manages to campaign for the estate tax while serving as co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the vehicle by which William Gates Sr.'s son, the founder of Microsoft, is giving away most of his money so that it doesn't end up getting eaten up by the estate tax and falling into the hands of politicians who may spend it less wisely than he will. The Journal quotes Mr. Gates Sr. as saying "it's clear that those who become wealthy did not do it alone. The people owe something back to society that enables them to create that wealth." This idea that rich people exist at the sufferance of the rest of society is a long-held one, but it's problematic. It's not like America did these people a big favor by allowing them to enjoy their property rights; those rights pre-existed America, and if America had done anything to infringe on them, it would be violating those rights. They are natural, human rights, inalienable rights, as the Founders realized. That doesn't mean that rich people and all Americans shouldn't be patriotic, or that those who feel particularly grateful or guilty shouldn't voluntarily give money to charity or write an extra bonus check to the U.S. Treasury or to some charity that supports the troops or American history. But the idea of forcing rich people to express their gratitude through estate taxes in addition to the income taxes, payroll taxes, sales taxes, and many other taxes that they are already subject to -- many of them on a progressive scale, or to pay for benefits that phase out at certain income levels -- goes beyond gratitude or noblesse oblige. It involves using the taxing power of the government to force people to pay money to express gratitude, whether or not they feel it, and whether or not they feel that the gratitude might be better expressed by choosing to give the money to their children to continue a family business or start a new one or to invest in new ideas that will also in their own way help build America. Since there are plenty of people, too, who were born in America and didn't make fortunes, the idea that the fortunes are largely owed to America rather than the people who created them has its flaws.
Do The Rich Owe America for Their Fortunes?