First, libertarian law professor Richard Epstein has a post up at Forbes.com making a series of characteristically wise and incisive points on the topic.
Second, I spent this afternoon apple-picking with my family and some friends at a farm in Dutchess County, New York. In the farm store was a black-and-white picture of the father of the farmer. The farmer, with whom I had a prior acquaintance, was kind enough to spend some time showing me around, speaking with evident pride of the tomatoes (which were spectacularly delicious) and of his son, who, with a degree from Yale, has turned to managing the farm now.
The farm visit did more than any article could to underscore that there can be a certain dignity and excellence to a multigenerational family business. Robert Rubin and Julian Robertson see what they call inherited economic power as contrary to meritocracy and "antithetical to this historical vision of our society and to the vitality and dynamism that has contributed so much to our success." But it takes vitality and dynamism to keep even an inherited business prospering. We found our way to the farm, for example, in part because of a Web site touting the farm's cutting-edge low-pesticide practices.
Now, the estate-tax defenders argue that the tax doesn't really hurt small family farms, or that there are ways to carve out exemptions for them. Maybe. But before Robert Rubin or Julian Robertson write another Wall Street Journal op-ed piece claiming that businesses passed along from one generation to another are somehow antithetical to vitality, dynamism, or the American way, they should spend some time on a family farm. It struck me as American as apple pie.