Pelosi: Benedict and St. Augustine support death tax

Pelosi: Benedict and St. Augustine support death tax

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gave a speech on the floor of the House yesterday in opposition to the repeal of the death tax, i.e. a government grab of half of everything your parents worked hard to earn because of the simple fact that they have died. It is in fact a double tax since, the deceased already paid taxes on their income the first time around. It is a tax on capital and savings, a penalty on those who have worked hard and saved and built a business or estate to hand on to their children.

In any case, in her appeal to claim that the cut in the death tax benefits only the super-wealthy (it does not; just ask the people who have inherited family farms and family businesses, ask anyone whose parents had a medium-priced home and a decent-sized IRA), she cited none other than Pope Benedict and his encyclical Deus Caritas Est. Yes, she did.

Pope Benedict just recently put out his new encyclical, “God is Love.” And in his encyclical, he quoted Saint Augustine when he wrote, this is in the Pope’s encyclical. You can find it there. He talked about the role that politicians have and that a government should be just, and we should be promoting justice. And he goes on, Pope Benedict does, to quote Saint Augustine. He says: “A state that is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves.” This is the Pope saying this in an encyclical, quoting a saint. “A state which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves.”

I ask this Congress, is it justice to steal from the middle class to give tax cuts to the ultra-superrich?

It is not just. And it is an injustice we cannot afford. Americans can no longer afford President Bush and the Republicans. It is time for a new direction. We can begin by rejecting this estate tax giveaway to the wealthy and insist on a vote to increase the minimum wage. That would be a real values judgment.

This is called pandering to an audience. Pelosi apparently believes that by citing Pope Benedict quoting St. Augustine on the need for government to be just, that she’s showing everyone what a good Catholic she is.

The Deus caritas est prescription for justice and charity

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
6 comments
  • Dom,

    To start: I’m not a fan of Pelosi in the least, and the idea of her quoting from BXVI is laughable. But I think your reading of the justice of the estate tax is a bit strained.

    I grant that this tax is sometimes applied to family farms and businesses, but with the current exemption at 2 million (I think … and with scheduled increases for the next several years) the tax certainly isn’t being levied on 20 acre family homesteads or mom-and-pop corner delis! To the extent that this is a problem the solution would be to increase the exemption, or somehow distinguish between an operating family business (that would have to be liquidated to pay the tax) and just a big bank account waiting for heirs, but not to eliminate the tax entirely.

    I assume though, that you’re against the estate tax altogether on principle, whether it is levied on a family farm or a billionaire. You say that the tax punishes people who have “worked hard and saved” but the plain fact is that anyone accumulating that size fortune has benefited significantly from society, their environment, and some luck – on everything from the education they received to the roads they drove on to get to the office where they built their business. This is not to discount their real hard work and commitment, but success simply doesn’t happen in a vacuum. That kind of thinking is pretty uniquely American (and maybe Calvinist)! The estate tax recognizes all this and encourages people to give back to charity (and/or their family and friends) before they die, and failing that acts on behalf of society to limit the creation of some sort of American “aristocracy”.

    Alas, the way the government spends the money once it gets it is another shameful issue, and one on which I think we’re a lot closer to agreement, particularly as it relates to subsidiarity.

  • Your reasoning is completely arbitrary. Who gets to decide at what level we say that people are “winners of life’s lottery”? To many people in this country, anyone who makes over $75,000 per year or has assets over $500,000 are the rich. Why shouldn’t we seize half their assets?

    Plus I don’t know where you live, but a small business that employs 40 or 50 people is easily worth more $2 million or even $5 million. There are quite a few documented cases of family business and farms being sold off to pay the death tax or even closed and dismantled. So much for justice for the employees.

    I suggest you re-read Benedict’s encyclical. Having the State force people into charity is not charity.

    You say that the tax punishes people who have “worked hard and saved” but the plain fact is that anyone accumulating that size fortune has benefited significantly from society, their environment, and some luck…

    This is an assertion, it is not evidence or proof.

  • No, I didn’t miss it. The principle is the principle regardless of how much moneythe person has.

    After all, it could be argued that billionaire, investing his money and running companies and giving to charity, provides a whole lot more to society than he takes out of it. And certainly a whole lot more than a bunch of politicians and bureaucrats apportioning it out through government waste.

    And I think you missed my point about justice for the employees.

  • Dom,

    If the estate tax is arbitrary EVERY tax is arbitrary. Legislators debate the necessity of a given tax, and then the threshold and rates at which it is levied, and it’s connected to an underlying debate on how the tax burden should be distributed. Is that a legitimate process?

    And again, I agree that the tax shouldn’t be imposed on small family businesses, and to the extent that this is happening, adjustments are needed so operating businesses aren’t liquidated to pay a tax. In my first post i differentiated between that and a liquid account waiting to be passed along. Even granted all that I don’t think you can extrapolate from those cases that the concept of a tax at death is unjust.

    I will re-read Deus Caritas Est and consider what it has to say about state power. But couldn’t we go back and forth forever quoting different magisterial documents to support our position? For instance, I could throw out:

    CCC2406 Political authority has the right and duty to regulate the legitimate exercise of the right to ownership for the sake of the common good.

    Finally, you’re absolutely right that my statement about success not being the sole result of an individual’s effort being was only an assertion and not evidence. It just genuinely surprises me that the statement is at all controversial! We don’t take a breath without God’s love, and we don’t earn a single dollar without our fellow man.

  • The founders of our nation didn’t even make a nation income tax possible.  Taxes are necessary, but they need to be, in my opinion, on services.  Income is not a service.  Dying is not a service. Sales is a service.  Think of what we all learned in history class: the tea tax, the stamp act, etc.  Our nation was founded on the principle I have a right to my money, in the same way I have a right to raise my (theoretical) kids. 

    I’m all for helping the poor, but I didn’t think Christ told the rich young man, “Go, let the government take all your money, and come, follow me.”

  • Eric,

    The welfare state isn’t at all about charity.  It’s about buying votes, enriching cronies, putting people on the plantation and keeping ‘em there, and limo liberals appearing to be generous to the poor while they cheat and/or loophole their way out of their own taxes.

    Rep. Nancy P. habitually coverts her neighbors’ goods and models herself on Judas Iscariot.

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