Monday, December 21, 2009

The Taxation of My Patience

Remember this quote from "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"?

"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

It was about a newspaper man refusing to print the truth because...oh, what the hell, let's mix our aphorisms, "A lie gets half way around the world before the truth gets its boots on." In this case, the lie was all the way around the world and it just wasn't worth chasing.

Words matter. Spin works. And the Republicans have been calling the estate tax "the death tax" for so long that even mainstream media outlets have no problem calling it that. It looks like the LA Times has flat-out given up. Check out the title of this editorial.

You read that right. Just in case you didn't, here it is again.

The Taxation of Death

We can argue until we're blue in the face about whether the estate tax is a nice thing or the end of civilization as we know it. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But they aren't entitled to their own facts. In this case, death is not taxed. Death never has been taxed. What is being taxed is inheritance. And, more importantly, the estate tax is not actually called "the death tax". Never has been, never will be.

The fact that the word "estate" implies a lot of money is one of the reasons it's never used by its opponents. Taxing estates? What could be wrong with that? But taxing death? Unfair! 98% of beneficiaries or heirs (more words they don't use) will never be subject to it. And the ones who are subject to it should consider themselves fortunate. Even after Uncle Sam takes his bite, they're still inheriting at least a million bucks. Oh no! Poor them!

This is not a tax on death, it's a tax on income. Income which was not earned by the person receiving it. Unless the tax goes up to 100%, then the argument that people want to leave something to their children and can't just doesn't fly.

But, as I mentioned, the real issue I have here is not the merits of the tax but the use of language. The LA Times has succumbed to the right-wing spin machine by adopting their terminology, which is entirely unofficial and entirely inaccurate.

Here's the opening line:
The old saw about the only certainties in life being death and taxes isn't quite right: We'll also always be arguing about the taxation of death.

Now, the editorial actually raises some valid points about some upper-middle-class folks getting socked with a wee bit of pain. And they do use the word "heirs", to their credit. This is all good. But to promote the canard that the thing being taxed here is death and not non-earned income is inexcusable.

Please, LA Times editors. Stop.

1 comment:

Shannon Wagner said...

Another of my favorites is the "marriage penalty", which I always took to mean the opposite of the "single's penalty".

Oh well, I guess anytime one group gets a benefit, then the complement of that group has to get a penalty.