On October 27, 2010, Bloomberg published Democrats’ Estate Tax Plan Trips Next Secretariat, an opinion by Amity Shlaes:
The estate tax is one topic getting lost in the dust of the midterm races. That’s a pity. This tax, now quiescent, is set to roar back like a stallion in 2011 if lawmakers don’t rein it in with new legislation.
The destruction caused by the estate tax can be hard to capture. This is partly because the family business dynamic, so affected by the tax, is also hard to describe. Nonetheless, if left unchecked, this levy can trip up not only the workings of a family enterprise but also the general economy. An entertaining reminder of this fact is a film in theaters this midterm autumn. . . .
The 1970s was the bad old estate tax days,” Paul Caron, a tax expert at the University of Cincinnati College of Law, said in an e-mail. “The exemption was only $60,000 ($334,000 in today’s dollars) with a 77 percent top rate. Just as the day’s 70 percent top income tax rate spurred all sorts of aggressive tax sheltering activity, the draconian estate tax rates encouraged the wealthy to spend considerable time and money engaging in various strategies to reduce the estate tax bite.”
The fact that one of those tax-escape strategies might have been the purchase of gentlemen farms like the Chenerys’ doesn’t undermine the larger point: navigating tax obstacles stole precious time from more worthy endeavors.