On September 1, 2010, the Wall Street Journal published Bring Back the Estate Tax Now, an op-ed by Robert Rubin (U.S. Treasury Secretary 1995-99 under President Bill Clinton, formerly at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, currently at the Council on Foreign Relations) and Julian Robertson (founder Tiger Management hedge funds, now a private investor, philanthropist, founder of Robertson Foundation). This op-ed continues the arguments that Rubin and Robertson made for a stronger estate tax in a July 21, 2010 United for a Fair Economy teleconference. See UFE teleconference called on Congress to reinstate the federal estate tax, Future of the Federal Estate Tax, July 21, 2010.
In the WSJ op-ed, Rubin and Robertson urged Congress to take immediate action by reinstating the federal estate tax with an exemption of $3.5 million and a tax rate of 45%, retroactive to January 1, 2010:
We would recommend continuing 2009's regime . . . Small businesses and family farms can be protected both through the exemption . . . and through special deferred payment rules.
We both believe that the estate tax should be a component of any federal tax system. . . .
An estate tax can provide revenue—with little, if any, adverse supply-side economic impact—to fund deficit reduction, additional public investment or added assistance to those affected by the economic crisis. . . .
We also share the view that the estate tax is grounded in powerful philosophical underpinnings. . . .
[Rubin and Robertson argue that the estate tax should be retroactively imposed to January 1, 2010 because “in the case of the estate tax, presumably nobody's demise was affected in timing by the structuring of our tax laws. And importantly there has been notice—through the president's budget and statements by public officials—that a tax would be enacted earlier this year that would apply to the whole of this year.”]
[A]ction on the estate tax should not wait. Our country is losing revenue that, with its stressed fiscal conditions, it can ill afford to forego.
This article provoked many comments. Here are a few:
 Ira Stoll, Rubin and Robertson on Estate Tax, The Future of Capitalism, Sept. 1, 2010. Stoll criticizes Rubin and Robertson’s claims:
Preserving vitality and dynamism in America is a worthy goal. But there are lots of ways to do it — immigration, education reform, lower taxes and less regulation come to mind. It's not clear that taking assets away from people who die and giving the assets to politicians to dispense is the big boost to vitality and dynamism that Mr. Rubin and Mr. Robertson claim it is.
 Jonathan Berr, Don’t Believe The Nonsense About The Estate Tax, 24/7 Wall St, Sept. 1, 2010:
Getting rid of it entirely seems unwise, especially given the more than $1 trillion federal deficit. Under the 2009 rules, which Robertson and Rubin back, people with estates worth $3.5 million or couples with holdings valued at $7 million are exempt from the tax. Very few — only about 1 of every 400 of the wealthiest estates — paid any estate tax under the 2009 rules which have a 45 percent rate. This seem reasonable, particularly since there are protections for small businesses and farmers.
Letting rich people inherit money without restrictions rewards people who don’t need the help and hurts most people who have to pay higher taxes than they would otherwise.
 Felix Salmon, When plutocrats call for higher taxes, Reuters blog, Sept. 1, 2010:
It’s ludicrous that the estate tax is at zero this year. But it’s not going to be easy to pass a retroactive tax, especially when its biggest cheerleaders are these two guys: the person most to blame for the global financial crisis, and a hedge-fund billionaire who carefully skirts residency requirements to avoid paying millions of dollars in taxes.
 Charles Rowley, Robert Rubin, Prince of Darkness, strikes again, Charles Rowley's Blog, Sept. 1, 2010.
Maybe this is not such a bad idea Mr. Rubin! I am not exactly a public official, but I am a professor, which, squeezing a notch or two, might give me the kind of standing that you require. So I now pronounce that it is my desire to impose a retrospective wealth tax of 100 percent only on individuals who have ever been referred to as The Prince of Darkness. At the same time, any person with such a connotation, should they become bankrupt, should serve time in a Debtors’ Prison, prior to being exiled to Somalia.
Does that sound good to you Mr. Rubin? Or do you now think that the Founders had some sensible ideas after all?
 Ira Stoll, More on Robertson, Rubin, and the Estate, The Future of Capitalism, Sept. 3, 2010. This post summarizes “reader-participant-community member-content co-creator-watchdogs” and continues to criticize Rubin and Robertson’s arguments.
 Deborah L. Jacobs (in a comment), Retroactive tax - Reader comments, The Future of Capitalism, Sept. 3, 2010. Jacobs, the author of Estate Planning Smarts: A Practical, User-Friendly, Action-Oriented Guide (DJWorking Unlimited, 2009), posted a comment to Stoll’s previous post. In part, Jacob writes,
I agree with Robert Rubin and Julian Robertson ("Bring Back the Estate Tax Now," Wall Street Journal, Sept. 1, 2010) that the estate tax should be restored retroactively at the levels that were in effect in 2009. At those levels the tax affects very few people. And past court cases suggest that restoring it retroactively is perfectly legal.
But Congress also needs to address an issue that Rubin and Robertson don't cover in their op-ed piece: Some people with a lot at stake have argued that a retroactive tax is unconstitutional and have threatened lawsuits.
 Thomas Lifson, Liberal hypocrites on the estate tax, American Thinker, Sept. 3, 2010. Lifson writes, “Do not read [Stoll’s 9/3/10 post] unless you enjoy laughing at rich liberals looking like craven hypocrites.” Lifson’s very short post generated a number of comments. Many of the comments disparage liberals.
One comment, posted by Bubba's BBQ, makes a point that is too often missed – many of the wealthy who are arguing for a stronger estate tax have wealth protected in long-lived dynasty trusts: “OK - Let's bring back the death tax. But while we are at it, Let's put a 60% one time tax on all active trusts, dating back to 1800. or a 33% annual tax on the same active trusts. Then stand back and watch them howl.”
 Kate Obenshain, Liberal Solution to the Financial Crisis: Death Tax, Human Events, Sept. 15, 2010: “The liberals’ have floated their latest solution to the financial crisis and its success is guaranteed to be equal to that of the stimulus. Bring back the death tax, as unveiled by the liberal mastermind, Robert Rubin in the Wall Street Journal.”
 John Tamny, The Estate Tax Is A Tax On Those Without Estates, Forbes.com, Sept. 20, 2010. Tamny argues that the estate tax hurts inventors and innovators because it reduces the amount of money available to fund projects:
The one-year disappearance of the estate tax in 2010 has unsurprisingly generated a great deal of commentary about how accumulated wealth should be taxed going forward. Former Goldman Sachs head Robert Rubin recently joined with hedge fund eminence Julian Robertson to ask for the quick reinstatement of what some term the "death tax."
If they get their way, the losers in this scenario will be those without any estates to tax. . . .
And with savings in mind, it can't be stressed enough that an estate tax is very much a tax on those not in possession of inherited wealth. When governments tax wealth whether it's earned or inherited, what they're really doing is reducing the amount of capital available to fund the growth of tomorrow's innovators. Estate taxes, far from impacting the economy the least as Rubin and Robertson suggest, impact it very negatively for reducing the amount of capital the non-rich can access on the way to greater wealth.
Observation: an argument for a $3.5 million exemption and a rate of 45% is now widely considered to be a “liberal” position. Would it be seen as “liberal” if the estate tax returns in 2011 with an exemption of $1 million and a rate of 55%?
(Special thanks to Paul Caron who reported on the original WSJ op-ed and aggregated subsequent articles. See Rubin & Robertson: Bring Back the Estate Tax, Retroactive to Jan. 1, TaxProf Blog, Sept. 1, 2010; More on Rubin & Robertson, Bring Back the Estate Tax, Retroactive to Jan. 1, TaxProf Blog, Sept. 4, 2010; also, special thanks to Michael Hepner, a benefits professional, who first alerted me to the WSJ op-ed.)