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Posted: November 30, 2012

Leveling the playing field

Why we need the estate tax

David Sneed

There’s a new movie out about Abraham Lincoln. I don’t know if I’ll go…is it the one with vampires?

Do you know what President Lincoln said in a speech once? Our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. He gave voice to those immortal words at a cemetery in Gettysburg.

I think what Lincoln meant was that each black, brown, and white child, when they come kicking and screaming from the womb, should face the same challenges and be eligible for the same rewards as any other blessed American baby.  They should all have the same chance to succeed.

I believe that. Those who start a race should finish according to their ability and ambition—not end up tied just because “that would be fair.”  America is all about letting the motivated succeed. But what if the starting line isn’t the same for everyone; if someone has a head start? How do we, as Americans, feel about that?

I ask because I’m pretty sure that we aren’t born with equal hardship or equal opportunity.  Some people lack physical attributes which the rest of us take for granted—but that’s the Lord’s decision, not ours. And some of us are born dimwitted for which we can only curse our Maker.

But I ask you: what of the inequality of property which is given to some but not to others? Is not the starting line different for the rich than the poor?

When Abraham Lincoln spoke of all men being created equal, he was contrasting freedom and slavery.  Well if we believe that no man should be born a slave, we must also believe that none should be born a master.

Was Lincoln not also referring to our break from the tyranny of title—of the Kings and Dukes and Princes of English peerage?  Title and power were passed down from the father; the son having done nothing to deserve it. And just by matter of his sire, any man could become our master—an idea anathema to the Founders of America; to Abraham Lincoln; and to me.

You probably don’t care much for it either.

So we have a system for limiting familial advantage.  Now a wise and good parent will set aside opportunity for his children and I do that too, but there must be a limit to the lead I can give to my son who has yet to prove his worth or ability. That’s why I support the estate tax.

Estate tax is the system by which we curb hereditary power. It’s how we can keep an unproven child from being born a master of other men. Should I leave my progeny a sum to allow him an easier beginning? Yes, of course, but it mustn’t be enough that he is born a king. America doesn’t play that.

We should keep the race close, if only at the beginning. If we even remotely agree that this country is founded on the principle of equality at birth, we must support a more robust estate tax and inheritance limits.

The new peerage of wealth is no different than the one we left in the moldy castles of Europe. We have a responsibility to our descendants to imagine an America 200 years hence. We have a responsibility to the first Americans who fought and died escaping the yoke of hereditary privilege to stand up to any who think that individual power should depend on who your parents are.

If you believe in an America where we are all created equal, an America where one succeeds by his own talent, ambition and drive, then support a policy that requires each of us to earn his right to rule over other men.

David Sneed is the owner of Alpine Fence Company,and the author of" Everyone Has A Boss– The Two Hour Guide to Being the Most Valuable Employee at Any Company." As a Marine, father, employee and boss, David has learned how to help others succeed. He teaches the benefits of a strong work ethic to entry and mid-level employees. Contact him at

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Readers Respond

Robert, By your rationale of "if it ain't in the Constitution we don't need it," the Bill of rights, and the rest of the Amendments, wouldn't exist. Woman's Suffrage? 100 years ago men argued using the same words that you're using here to say women couldn't vote. The Constitution was written by men asserting a DIVINE right to certain things. Is that your argument for no taxes, and no gov't intrusion at all? Is it a moral absolute or what? By David on 2012 12 15
David: it’s simple. You believe in big, intrusive, “protective” government and I don’t. I base my assertion on the U.S. Constitution where it guarantees personal liberty. Have you read it? Taken the Hillsdale College on line course? I don’t want government telling me which plumber I should hire or prevent me from being a stupid consumer that buys from a company known for sloppy hygiene. So yes, there is a general principle to get government out of every activity other than those authorized in the Constitution. I wrote a book on personal responsibility (Living an Extraordinary Life – Amazon and Kindle) plus over 1.3 million people have graduated from seminars in companies I founded and led. The seminar’s main message: take personal responsibility. By Robert on 2012 12 14
Robert, I don't necessarily disagree with you, but when you say "...don’t have any right to tell a fellow citizen what s/he should do with their property," what do you base that on? Is it an edict from God, or just a notion of fairness, an economic theory, or what? The government tells you to have a licensed plumber install your hot water heater, and they tell you to not offer e-coli tainted meat for sale. Is there a general principle against gov't telling you what to do with your property? because if so, it would apply to EVERY instance, not just some. And if SOME gov't edicts re: property are okay, who decides which ones are appropriate? By David on 2012 12 14
Medicare that we have paid into all our life and obummer is stealing 716 billion from it to fund Obama care. That almost 1/2 the states in the nation are saying NO to because the government got into the health care talks due to the high costs, and this new law does nothing to make our health care system better. It only makes it worse! Fewer Dr and more government costs! And thousands of illegal people getting free health care. What part of illegal don't you liberals understand? You want their health care paid for you go for it but don't force everyone to pay for illegals and I have the same opinion on all government program and most government agency's. Shut them down! And before you start arguing I did say MOST NOT ALL. By Mike on 2012 12 13
Yes that is right the working farmers of this nation are hard working and do not suck off the government tit unlike the liberals of this nation. Exceptions are true in everything, but most americans that do have a work ethic are sick and tired of working almost 2.5 days out of every week to support your liberal agenda. Not 2.5 days per week you say? Add up all the taxes that we pay and it comes to, for most, 50% of everything we make without estate tax. All this to support social programs that feed off the working including the working man that will never make 250k per year. The liberals keep saying that the rich need to pay more, all the while digging into the pockets of the poor to pay for things the poor will never see or use! Sales tax gas tax vehical tax property tax if you have anything left that has no been foreclosedonSS tax the our government representatives keep stealing from By Mike on 2012 12 13
David, thanks for being so clear. Something you apparently cannot or will not understand is I don’t debate in a vacuum. I have underlying principles of personal liberty and private property. I – or you or the government – don’t have any right to tell a fellow citizen what s/he should do with their property. Whether it is “good or bad for America” is less important than whether it is right for the individual. That founding principle is reflected in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Any proposal that runs counter to that document begins with enacting an amendment that the majority of citizens will vote for. While I would not agree with any amendment that you might propose, I celebrate your right as an American to do so. We’ve already got a President creating class warfare for political advantage. We don’t need you being his echo chamber. By Robert on 2012 12 13
I'm limber I guess, Mike. Farmers don't support the liberal farm bill? By David on 2012 12 13
But farmers vote for it (through their representatives of course.) Your words not mine. Once again you have it wrong the heavy populated areas of the nation were the only places that carried the liberal votes (freeloading welfare recipeants and minoritys) Not the farmers. I stand by my analogy and question, how can you have your head up both places at the same time? By Mike on 2012 12 13
Estate taxes START on estates greater than $5 million dollars. It "taxes" the income of the recipient, not the giver. You're so full of it or your a total idiot. "Giver"???? Once again you are twisting things to argue for a bad idea. Even you are not talking about anyone that wants to give their lives work to the government. Estate tax is TAKING, from, not given by. Your point of view, is 100% correct, in your mind only! And i'm sure it looks very good with your he'd where it is. My question is, how can you have your head in two places at the same time? Up both you're ass and obama's. By Mike on 2012 12 13
Omg you truly halve take your journalistic skills right out of msnbc. Take two points out of two different parts of a conversation add them together in one sentence to totally change the contents and call it good to make your point. What did I hit a nerve by pointing out that your business will be hurt by you point of view and by your choice of president? Or maybe that's your plan dive your business into the ground so you too can live off the backs of others. I have spent time in the military, I have managed major projects in government offices. Years worth of combined personal expereance in government waste and people. We do not need more of it, we need much less. You have not any children or family that have any personal drive or you would not be promoting big government By Mike on 2012 12 13
Mike, Oh, please. The Farm Bill, which also pays for food stamps, helps farmers. It's a liberal program. But farmers vote for it (through their representatives of course.) Is that the kind of Liberalism you hate? Fact: If you run a business where you borrow tons of money for a business that routinely fails, then you're either doing it wrong or it's a bad business model. That's not me talking, it's Capitalism. Stand up to the Communists, tell your brother farmers to stop taking subsidies.________Here are 2 lines from your last comment: "Save nothing spend everything and depend on Government / Budgeting every penny hoping..." One refers to liberals, one to farmers. Your words. Why are you so anti-farmer? By David on 2012 12 12
Robert, I didn't write an article about the Constitution, or the law. I wrote an article about theory. I wrote that I believe extreme wealth passing through generations is bad for America. I wrote that, as people, we value hard work and earning/deserving authority. I'm glad that you speak your mind. What you haven't done though is say: "I believe extreme wealth being passed through the generations is GOOD for America." or "I like it when a have a boss who's dad got him the job." That would be disagreeing with this article. Please, say that. Then we have something to debate. By David on 2012 12 12
I can tell you that alpine fence company will never get any business from me! By Mike on 2012 12 12
Save nothing spend everything and depend on Government and the labor of others to support the system built by the liberals. I come from a farming community where people work all year with no paycheck living off the labor of last year. Budgeting every penny hopping to make the payments each year on the family farm. Just like farmers anyone with a work ethic, and people that love enough to want to leave their loved ones the fruits of a lifetime of hard work and saving more than they spend, a lifestyle unknown by liberals, no one has a "RIGHT" to anything provided by the labor of others. If anyone is of sound mind and body and like so many of our country on welfare for no other reason than the lack of ambition to provide for themselfs, Liberals, this is your fault, Your system has helped to take away peoples drive to produce and be a productive member of society. By Mike on 2012 12 12
Also, the estate tax as it is currently structured is probably unconstitutional. It is not income therefore it is not authorized by the 18th Amendment. It is, in fact, a "taking" and is therefore illegal. As so many other posters have stated and you have ignored and avoided responding, all of that money has already been taxed -- often more than once -- and we should be able to gift it to whomever we wish: family or charity or the State. You do know, don't you, that Conservatives give much, much more to charity than Liberals do? If you want to donate all of your money to the federal government upon your passing, please feel free to do so. Just don't use the power and might of the government to illegally demand I do the same. By Robert on 2012 12 11
Ahhhh ... David. You've done it again. I confess in my prior message to missing one tactic of the liberal elitist intellectual left: instead of arguing a point, ask a question back that avoids once again engaging in the arguments put forward by those who disagree with you. I suggest there's plenty of "meat" already in the comments to date so why not engage with it? Regarding "A great wealth being passed down is no different than a hereditary title, and Americans do not believe in HT's." I disagree with your premise which I believe is languaged to avoid dealing with that nasty little reality the Constitution of the United States. An inheritance is property and the takings clause prevents it from being appropriated by the government. By equating an inheritance with a hereditary title, you're confusing property with ego. No sale. By Robert on 2012 12 11
For you, Robert, I will. What say you to the point of the article: "A great wealth being passed down is no different than a hereditary title, and Americans do not believe in HT's." Maybe one commenter has addressed the crux of the article. By David on 2012 12 11
Has everyone noticed that David does not respond to the essence of anyone's argument? Could this be because he doesn't have a rational response? Could it be that most liberals use the tactic of changing the subject or introducing a red herring or attacking the messenger or obfuscating with facts not in question? By Robert on 2012 12 10
Stop all foreign aid stop all domestic social programs for the able bodied and the mentally sound shut down all government agencies that do not have a direct link to public safety. Pay for vets hospital bills and shut down the VA. All of this has so much waste there is no way to pay for it all. Screw the liberal agendas and screw you for thinking that anyone has the right to take someones ability to pass on his or her life work to the person/s of their own choice. Firkin liberal bs. By Mike on 2012 12 10
Liberal bull s*(t. By Mike on 2012 12 10
You are correct, today but this was back in the 80's when the deduction was much much lower. The fact remains, 10 people (families) lost jobs because the new owner didn't have the experience or the relationships built up over the years to run the business. I would rather have an irresponsible heir spend his inheritance IN THE MARKET PLACE (thus buying goods and services from others supporting the economy) rather than give the money to a Government that has policies to give money away freely to a continually growing undeserving population. I own apartment buildings. I have seen a 50% growth of welfare recipients in the last three years, able bodied 35 -50 year old's. I have 4 pages double spaced of all the government agencies that offer some sort of assistance and it seems to be easy to get! This has to stop ! By Dr. O on 2012 12 10
Sorry I must disagree! Estate tax will take away family farms and small business and things family's have worked for for generations! What we need is to take away government and tax and spend way of thinking! We have so much waste in every level of government and it is all on the back of those that work to support not only themselfs but a corrupt and wasteful system of government. you can level the playing field for every generation and every person and all you will do is reinforce the way of thinking that the lazy need to be taken care of. I cry bull s**t on estate tax and every other form of tax that supports any waste or abuse by bureaucrats and the lazy! I do believe in help for the needy but help not creating dependency and promoting abuse By Mike on 2012 12 10
Although it would be quite a task to pretend to speak for Lincoln, I think context is critical. Lincoln was wise enough to know not all are created equal in many aspects, but with the backdrop of slavery, it was essential that he say everyone is created equal in their humanity and should be treated with at least reasonable dignity. Remember, there were those in the south who believed that "negros" were animals or slightly elevated apes and not truly human, and not on par with whites. My guess is that he was saying we are all of equal intrinsic value as human beings, and neither money, status, nor any other artificial attribute should alter that. From there, of course, it is up to us to create value, but that seems to me to have been his foundational building block. By Neal on 2012 12 09
Estate taxes START on estates greater than $5 million dollars. It "taxes" the income of the recipient, not the giver. By David on 2012 12 07
First it's double taxation. You already paid tax on your money and property. Second, most of the wealth of America is made up of small business. Many are passed on to the next generation, for example, the beauty salon my mother ran that was started by my grandmother. Death tax is immediate and must be paid even if it means selling assets to satisfy the "Government". So, if the family business must be sold it is usually sold for much less than it's worth. For example, My aunt (my mother's younger sister) wanted to take over the beauty salon when my mother suddenly passed away. But my Aunt didn't have enough money to buy the business so the estate tax could be satisfied. The business was sold and eventually went under. FYI: 10 people lost their jobs. So, Estate tax is a Job Killer! I hope this doesn't happen to one of your children if they decide to carry on the company you founded. By Dr. O on 2012 12 07
It was once stated "give me life, liberty and the persuit of happiness" it is my god given right to create a living or death trust that already without the my childrens knowledge giving them each the right to survivership to all the things I have achieved. And that gives them the decision to use that after I am gone. I served my country in Arms, and conclude that do not get shit from me. I was not well off and worked hard for everything. My children have the same work ethic as I have and give them something to at least start with to help them have something from me, in rememberance. Money, house, land that it is on, tools i have collected and used over the years. So bite me and I will be buried upside down so every time you kiss the ground your kissing my ass. By RON P on 2012 12 06
Thank you all for commenting, and, even though we disagree, it's pretty cool that we live in a time and place where ideas can freely be exchanged. By David on 2012 12 06
"Estate tax is the system by which we curb hereditary power." Estate tax is actually a systen by which we punish hereditary achievement. There should be NO right to tax one's estate upon their death simply because they died. Everything owned has already been taxed. By Michael Tomlin on 2012 12 06
Hmm. I favor a level playing field. Moreover, I think our tax policy rewards wealth and punished\s income and that should change. However, I cannot disagree more on generational wealth. Achieving the American Dream rarely happens overnight with two people building computers in their garage. If it happens at all, it is over generations. The idea of death taxes to level the playing field represents the death of the American dream, not it's beginning. By Richard on 2012 12 06
Aristocracy is defined as government by small privileged class. America has a democratic government, elected every four years. If economic advantage would decide the ruling class, then Mitt should be the president and not Barack. In fact, people with inheritance should be allowed to keep all their wealth. Any redistribution, to me, is not American. Survival of the fittest is a natural phenomenon and the fittest should not be deprived of their winnings. By John Republican on 2012 12 04
As Teddy Roosevelt observed when he proposed taxing large inheritances a century ago, the "man of great wealth owes a peculiar obligation to the state," and an economic aristocracy is contrary to American values. Large tax-free inheritances undermine our nation's commitment to equality of opportunity for all. By David on 2012 12 04
This is just one more liberal attempt to belittle success. Ridiculous. Equal opportunity yes, everything else falls to chance. By Roy on 2012 12 03
All men are created equal with equal RIGHTS - not equal assets. There are blind people and deaf people and short people and dumb people, etc. What David is suggesting is that we cripple those born without the amazing blessing of being born poor. It's IMPOSSIBLE for all men to succeed or fail on their merits. Millions of children will go to terrible schools (mostly in areas where liberals run things). There is no "fair" start. It's time to be intellectually honest - as hard as that may be for you. Stop writing articles with the premise "here are founding principles, and they inevitably lead to liberalism right on the edge of socialism". Instead, honestly present the view "I'm a liberal right on the edge of socialism, and I'm going to bend the founding principles to make my argument". You'd still be wrong, but at least we could respect you for being honest. By Common Sense on 2012 12 01
This is just more tortured liberal logic from David. Not worth the time to read. By Robert on 2012 11 30
I pay taxes when I earn the money, the government should not be entitled to it when I die. Suppose I have family members with disabilities or aging parents that need the money should I die before them. What if I want my kids, nieces or nephews to have the money to pay for college? It should be my choice. I prefer the government not have it to pay for foreign aid and wars I may not approve of. By Dane on 2012 11 30
The Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, ..." You are a brave man, John, for standing up to say our country is FOUNDED on an "incorrect" premise. By David on 2012 11 30
If all men were created equal, we will all be neither black, white or yellow, will be born in middle class household in Kansas(!), have IQ of 100. It is the equal opportunity that America offers. People are different in so many ways. Of course merit includes inheritance, be it money or genes. The premise that all men are created equal is not correct. You can not make them equal. You can offer a level playing field for them to play, but not equal players. By John Republican on 2012 11 30
I'd be interested in comments on the premise: "All men are created equal - A person should succeed or fail on his merits." That's the point of the column and one which I'd assume most Americans agree on. If not, why? By David on 2012 11 30
David's attempt to discuss estate taxes is not complete, for he does not tell us how he thinks the government should use new wealth. This is would be like giving the government the opportunity to waste more of our hard earned monies. I prefer to leave it in a Trust where we can allocate the funds appropriately, and if one generation does not meet the expected level of responsibility, those funds would be available to the next generation or given to specific charities of my choosing. The bottom line is that these funds is what is left over after taxes were paid, and double taxation in this case would not be fair. By Juan on 2012 11 30
A thought provoking article and a convincing argument for leveling the playing field. Should a 5'0" tall person be allowed to share the success of a 7'0" tall basketball player? Or, a person with IQ of 150 be helping his peers in the SAT test? Just to level the playing field! I believe what Lincoln said was to address the civil liberties. It was not about redistribution of wealth. If progeny of a rich person is incompetent, they will destroy themselves, Jesse Jackson Jr and some Kennedy's are examples of that. Taxing lowers the incentive to work and excel. and, thus produces mediocrity, where America does not belong. By John Republican on 2012 11 30
If you believe that your progeny are not worthy, then it is your choice to give it away to charity or someone else. If you believe that your progeny are worthy of creating more value and wealth then you give it to them. You worked hard for it or you've enhanced what you received. It shouldn't be the governments choice to decide what to do with your wealth. Generational wealth is not a bad thing.. its leaving a legacy. That is my humble opinion. By Stephen on 2012 11 30
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