- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2001

Democrats are behaving strangely. Just when you thought you had them figured out, along comes more inexplicable acts and confounding demagoguery. We are now confronted with 120 very rich liberals who have petitioned their government not to repeal taxes on their estates.

The father of Bill Gates, the richest man in America, complains that “repealing the estate tax would enrich the heirs of America's millionaires and billionaires while hurting families who struggle to make ends meet.”

Warren Buffett, the fourth richest man in America, thinks the repeal of the estate tax “would be a terrible mistake.” He is concerned about money and resources in the hands of people based on “heredity rather than merit.”

Their petition makes the case that rich people give to charities as a way to reduce the size of their estates, thus avoiding taxation. They reason that “Repeal would have a devastating impact on public charities.”

The petition argues that if estates are not taxed, either other taxes will have to be raised or there will have to be cuts in “Social Security, Medicare, environmental protection and many other government programs so important to our nation's continued well-being.”

It is impossible not to be touched by the angst of these people. These are men who have heard their leaders refer to them time and again as the “filthy rich.” Maybe that evaluation has taken hold. Maybe these are nothing more than poor billionaires, full of self-doubt and plagued by guilt, crying out to their government: “Tax me, before I do the wrong thing with my money!”

Frankly, I am troubled and baffled by what these people are doing. Why are these ostensibly intelligent men threatened by the prospect of being in control of the disposition of their own money?

Why, for example, do they feel the need to have a tax threat hanging over their head to motivate them to give to public charities? If they are so concerned about public charities, why do they not relish the idea of contributing money of their own free will? Why do they need Big Brother to wring the right behavior from them?

If a millionaire is convinced his children have been raised so poorly they aren't fit to inherit his money, why doesn't he handle that problem himself rather than looking to government? If one is of the belief that money doesn't belong in the hands of son or daughters because they didn't earn it, what is the rationale for believing it is a better thing if the money is forcefully taken by government — which, after taking its own unmerited cut, distributes the rest to people who didn't earn it?

If a billionaire is convinced that the government needs his money to run its programs, why doesn't he get rid of all the wills, shelters, living trusts and other legal instruments his lawyers have constructed which enable him to lower his tax burden? What better way to fund the government than to forego all those deductions and all that loophole lawyering?

The animus of these well-off liberals toward tax cuts and their sense of impending doom when such cuts are contemplated suggests they have been seduced by the idea that the government is the centerpiece of the American experience and the source from which all blessings flow.

American liberals believe government has a duty to control all available resources to achieve fairness and equity throughout society. They are convinced the government must suppress people's selfish impulses to keep more of their earnings than they need. Everyone, impelled by “compassion and caring,” must sacrifice for the common good.

However, it is basic to human nature that people will not voluntarily yield the fruit of their labor for distribution to others in terms of some intellectual elitist's idea of what is just. They may be cajoled, propagandized and manipulated into doing it for a while, but in time they will rebel against it. Ultimately, a political system based upon “fairness” requires brute force, which takes away whatever virtue it may have claimed. Compulsory compassion has no soul.

Self-sacrifice is not a proper engine for driving an economy. Human beings, as a derivative of the instinct to survive, are innately driven to act in their own self-interest. Capitalism harnesses human self-interest; socialism exhausts itself trying to kill it. Any government or institution that runs head-on against the grain of this basic human drive is doomed, sooner or later, to fail.

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