Richard Schmalbeck

Late last night, Congress passed a compromise tax bill that will, among other things, cap the estate tax at 35% (with a $5 million exemption). If not for this compromise, the estate tax would have returned in 2011, at rates as high as 55 percent (with a $1 million exemption).

Hallelujah. Anytime you can save wealthy dead people millions of dollars during a time of crushing federal deficits, that’s something you just have to do. Way to go, Obama. When I voted for you in 2008, really I was just trying to vote for four more years of Bush’s ruinous fiscal policies.

Obama isn’t just saving money for all the dauphins eager to get their hands on their inheritances; he could be saving lives. Duke Law professor Richard Schmalbeck apparently thinks that rich old people might have killed themselves in droves over the next two weeks. Schmalbeck suggests that after spending a lifetime working hard and earning money, hundreds “or even a few thousand” of the aging rich might have committed suicide in the waning days of 2010, in order to pass on as much of their money to their children as they can before the estate tax returns in 2011.

I shudder to think that somebody would commodify their own life in such a way. But then again, I’m not rich. Maybe you only get rich in this country by being the kind of person who would gladly kill yourself if the price is right…

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