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Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes Paperback – January 15, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Gates, whose son cofounded Microsoft and became the wealthiest man on the planet, teams up with Collins, program director of the nonprofit United for a Fair Economy and Responsible Wealth, to explain why the government should continue to levy estate taxes on the fortunes of America's wealthiest citizens (which President Bush, advocating its elimination, has provocatively called the "death tax"). In reviewing the tax's history, the authors explain the Founding Fathers' concern with maintaining conditions of equitability that would enable any American with sufficient ambition and perseverance to accumulate a fortune within his lifetime without creating a new aristocracy. The robber barons of the Gilded Age thwarted those intentions, so the estate tax was established in 1916. The tax was controversial from its inception, and the authors reveal how carefully orchestrated efforts by a handful of wealthy families, think tanks and PR firms drummed up public opposition in the 1990s, even though the tax didn't apply to most Americans. Congress voted to repeal the estate tax in 2001. It's bad enough, Gates and Collins argue, that the government will lose $30 billion a year over the next decade because of the repeal; the loss is particularly keen given the cost of cleaning up after the September 11 attacks and fighting the subsequent war on terrorism. They've prepared an earnest manifesto, which may seem like locking the barn doors after the horse has fled, but this book could help create a sympathetic public perception by 2011, when, in a bizarre legal twist, the estate tax goes back on the books.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
This defense of the controversial estate tax is offered by Gates, the father of the billionaire founder of Microsoft, and Collins, a tax advocate. The authors join forces to argue against the present presidential administration's proposed repeal of the estate tax, which is a transfer tax imposed on large accumulations of wealth at the death of the owners, and the authors estimate such repeal will cost $850 billion in tax revenue over the next 20 years. Although they acknowledge that wealth accrues to an individual through savvy and hard work, Gates and Collins also believe that society contributes to that individual's success through investments in education, economic development, heath care, and property rights protection, and a reformed estate tax is a legitimate return on society's investments. This book and its ideas that estate tax reform should focus upon the truly huge fortunes and earmark the revenue for uses such as education or Social Security will contribute to the ongoing debate on this important topic. Mary Whaley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
I have been a tax accountant for over 25 years, with a professional interest in this subject, and I learned a great deal!
The truth is, economic disparity has widened since the Reagan/Bush/Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and if nothing is done -- or worse, the tax burden is further shifted onto the poor as has been proposed -- then the results may mimic the last time economic disparity was this bad, in the late 1920s.
There's a lot of good information in this book, and it tries very hard to be fair to both sides of the debate. It is not however the best organized book I've ever read, jumping around from topic to topic within chapters and having no overall arc to the organization. The first chapter is a bramble of statistics, dollar amounts and percentages without a single chart to illustrate them. The middle of the book gets easier, but the book does not finish up with any grand conclusions. It could have been more fun but that does not detract from its importance.
It is not hard to agree with the conclusion of the book in light of two facts. First, one of the authors is Bill Gates, Sr - the father of Microsoft's founder. Since abolishing the of an estate tax stands to benefit his son, one would think he would love it. Second, the book comes after a large group of millionaires and billionaires petitioned against "wholesale repeal of the estate tax" (p. 1), suggesting that there is wide support for the tax out there. Third, in the Foreword to the book Paul Volcker, ex-Chairman of the Fed, agrees with the book, although he cautions that budget deficits have spending and revenue sides to them. Despite the Laffer curve hypothesis, eliminating estate taxes simply reduces tax revenue and redistributes the tax burden toward the middle class. The estate tax law has a long history, lined by supporters and detractors on both sides.
A "showdown" is looming in the horizon, because supporters of the abolition of the estate tax seem to ignore that private wealth depends on the commonwealth, so that the rich, just like everyone else, owe society something. To be worthy an American is to care about others, especially the less fortunate and children other than your own. Thus a fair distribution of the equality of opportunities is the foundation of American democracy, and estate tax revenues have long played a significant role in this. In fact, it has prevented the emergence of an aristocratic dynasty.
There is a lot to like about this book, but too many words, like too many cooks, spoil the broth. Highly recommended!!
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