11 Tax L. Rev. 223 (1955-1956)
The Rise and Decline of the Estate Tax

handle is hein.journals/taxlr11 and id is 231 raw text is: The Rise and Decline of the Estate Tax*
LOUIS EISENSTEIN
D EATHr taxes are ancient taxes. They were known to the Egyptians, as
well as the Romans and Greeks.- Even the complaints against them have a
venerable pedigree. Pliny the Younger provides as good an example as any.
He is among the earliest critics who have left us summaries of their com-
plaints. Pliny eloquently argued that a tax on the shares of direct heirs
was an 'unnatural' tax, augmenting the grief and sorrow of the be-
reaved. 2 Almost two thousand years later the same argument was still
being heard. For in 1898 Senator Allen forcefully inquired whether it was
right to stand with the widow and the children at the grave side of a dead
father to collect a tax, and then he sympathetically referred to the widow
in weeds and the children in tears. 3
In criticism, too, the fashions change. Now the complaints are more
sensitive to the laws of economics than to the distress of the survivors.
Instead of picturesque allusions to weeds and tears, there are grave obser-
vations on such formidable subjects as savings, investments, and incen-
tives. Many voices are heard, and all speak with assurance and authority.
The words may vary, but the message seems always the same. We are
solemnly informed, with a suitable air of gloom and despair, that our eco-
nomic system is doomed unless the estate tax is entirely repealed or se-
verely curtailed. We are dramatically reminded, so that we are properly
* This paper was prepared at the request of the Subcommittee on Tax Policy of the
Joint Committee on the Economic Report. It was one of many papers submitted to the
Subcommittee in its far-ranging study of the economic consequences of taxation. All
the papers appear in FEDEB.&A. T-X PoLicy FOR EcoNomc GRoWTu AND STAn Ty, JOI-T
Comm= o      THE ECONOMIC REPORT, 84th Cong., 1st Sess. (Joint Committee Print,
1955). For present publication I have sparingly made the kind of minor changes which
authors are unable to resist when they are given a second chance. Since the jurisdiction
of my paper was limited I did not undertake to discuss such matters as charitable
foundations and the economic effect of the estate tax. However, those who persevere to
the end should fairly easily infer my views in those areas. See further Hearings before
the Subcommittee on Tax Policy for Economic Growth and Stability, 84th Cong., 1st
Sess. 693 et seq. (1955).
3 See WEsT, THE IxHEIRAxC TAX 11 (2d ed. 1908); SHULTZ, TnE TjAoAox OF
I EHERIAwcE 3 (1926) ; GIBBON, THE DECLIXE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN Empsn 142, 144
(Modern Lib. ed.).
2 SHULTZ, op. cit. supra note 1, at 6.
3 31 CONG. REc. 5081 (1898). Cf. 42 CONe. GLOBE 4708 (1870) ; and iec SmT, THE
WEALTH OF NATIONS 810 (Modern Lib. ed. 1937).
223

Imaged with the Permission of N.Y.U. Tax Law Review

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