- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 14, 2005

One day as the sun went down, an elderly gentleman heard a knock on the door, opened it and saw the Grim Reaper standing there, a dark shroud covering all but two piercing eyes, a symbolic scythe in his hand.

The elderly gentleman half expected the Reaper, but was puzzled by the Reaper’s companion, a shriveled, hunched, ugly creature with a large empty bag over his shoulder. His eyes were more not so much piercing as avaricious.

“I know who you are,” said the gentleman to the Reaper. “My time has come, I guess, and I shall not fight you. But who is that with you?”

“Why,” said the Reaper, “that is Death Tax. He is here to take more than half of all you have accumulated so that the government can have it instead, and come on, don’t look so upset. You are pretty well off, you know.”

The gentleman’s face was a picture of torment.

“I may seem well off to you,” he said, “but I worked hard and gave up a lot for what I have, and it never occurred to me that my diligence and prudence, my belief in the American Dream and my aim to leave my children with a family business would somehow deprive me of my rights. Now my children will end up with nothing. Just to give Death Tax what he wants, they will have to sell the business.”

“Look,” said the Reaper, “I’ve heard that line before, and I don’t buy it. There are those out there who say all this stuff about crushing small businesses and destroying family farms is baloney. They have their statistics, you know.”

“I confute your statistics with flesh and bone,” said the elderly gentleman, who studied issues. He walked into his living room, followed by the Reaper and Death Tax, reached up on a shelf and pulled down a computer printout of an article by William W. Beach of the Heritage Foundation.

“I confute your statistics with Tim Koopman, Robert Sakata, Terry Deeny, Wayne Williams and Alexis Scott,” he said as he skimmed the article. “These are the names of a few among the thousands of actual people who have faced having farms or small businesses pass from their families because of the death tax. The last one I mentioned is interesting because she is a black woman trying to hang on to a family newspaper. Family newspapers are disappearing in America in part because the families don’t have the liquid assets to pay the tax.”

Staring down at Death Tax, the elderly gentleman continued: “Even if these people constitute a small portion of all those who pay death taxes, and even if those who have to pay these taxes to the federal government are a small portion of all inheritors, they are real human beings whose best hopes are put in jeopardy unless they take various expensive, evasive steps that are bad business practices, often wasteful and can sometimes be afforded by only the super-super-rich.”

Now Death Tax himself spoke up. “The government has needs, you know,” he snarled. “It has all kinds of good things to do, there are deficits to worry about, and why do you think someone should have to pay taxes on income and not inheritance? Let’s think of the social good here.”

The elderly gentleman bent over and got right in Death Tax’s face. “You think I haven’t paid taxes on income all my life, and that my children haven’t paid taxes on income?” he asked. “What you want is to tax this money again, and to do what? Feed a government that spends billions on pork and programs that never have achieved their objectives? How about getting that deficit down by cutting the programs that are chiefly a way of getting politicians re-elected instead of assuming that what I have earned is not really mine, but belongs to the government?”

The elderly gentleman coughed and looked pained, but continued. “You don’t serve the social good with tax policies that discourage the accumulation of wealth that can be plowed into businesses and create jobs,” he said. “All you do is cheat the principle of private property, of ownership, of being able to dispose of what is yours as you see fit, a principle that undergirds a free-market economic system that has produced more material good for more people than any other economic system in the history of humanity.”

“Well,” replied Death Tax, “the House saw things your way back in 2005, and the Senate could have fixed that legislation up some and passed its own bill to send me packing for good, but we know what happened. … ”

The Grim Reaper took the elderly gentleman away, while Death Tax scurried around filling his bag.

Jay Ambrose is the former Washington editorial policy director for Scripps Howard News Service.

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