Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies where he directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good (www.inequality.org). He is also co-founder of United for a Fair Economy and Wealth for the Common Good.
Two 21-year-old college students sit down in a coffee shop to study for an upcoming test. Behind the counter, a barista whips up their double-shot lattes. In the back kitchen, another young adult washes the dishes and empties the trash.
These four young adults have a lot in common. They are the same age and race, each has two parents, and all grew up in the same metropolitan area. They were all strong students in their respective high schools. But as they enter their third decade, their work futures and life trajectories are radically different—and largely determined at this point.
On April 13, the U.S. House of Representatives undertook its annual drill of voting to permanently abolish the federal estate tax, our only tax on inherited wealth. In 2003, the House passed identical legislation. Last time, Congress' projected 10-year cost of repeal was $162 billion; now, it's a cool $290 billion.
The lopsided vote for repeal, with 42 Democrats joining a uniﬁed gop, might suggest that the sun is setting on the estate tax. Anti-tax maestro Grover Norquist characterized it as “ﬂopping around like that stupid ﬁsh in the boat.” “It's over, ﬁsh,” Norquist declared in one interview. “You're done!”
I recently spoke at a veterans' club in suburban Boston about the dangers of America's growing wealth gap and its possible solutions. I informally polled the assembled group of 150 men, all white and over the age of 60. How many had received a low-interest home mortgage from the Federal Housing Administration, the Veterans Administration or the Farmers Home Administration? About two-thirds raised their hands. How many graduated from college without any debt, thanks to the GI Bill or other public-education programs? Again, about two-thirds. How many thought that these past policies were bad investments or a waste of tax dollars? Not one.