by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
That’s how John Steele Gordon interprets a front-page, above-the-fold story this week in the New York Times. Gordon explains in an entry for Commentary’s “Contentions” blog that the Times report shows the Republican presidential candidate took advantage of provisions in the tax code that helped him minimize his tax obligations.
This ghastly revelation is followed by an editorial:
The biggest beneficiaries of government largess are not those who struggle along on Social Security payments, Medicare or Medicaid benefits, or earned-income tax credits, . . . Rather, they are those at the highest end of the income scale: government contractors, corporate farmers and very rich individuals who have figured out how to exploit the country’s poorly written tax code for their benefit.
Since Mitt Romney has never held any federal office in his life, let alone sat in Congress, how, exactly, does this redound to his discredit? If the law is an ass—and one could hardly find any law more asinine than the United States Tax Code–the fault lies with the makers of the law, not with those who take advantage of it.
The Times specifically berates Romney for using the provisions of the tax code that allow him to avoid taxes while transferring assets to the next generation. I’m just guessing, but I’ll bet Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, the great former publisher of theTimes who died on Saturday, used many of the same provisions in his estate planning.
The Times accuses Romney of wanting to make the tax code even worse by eliminating the estate tax. With characteristic intellectual dishonesty, the Times fails to mention that the estate tax eliminates the capital gains tax that would otherwise be due on inherited assets. Eliminating the estate tax would reinstate the capital gains liability. So the effect of eliminating the estate tax would be to relieve families of the necessity to sell assets on death, not of their ultimate tax obligations. The net effect over time on federal revenues is probably a wash.