Yesterday, the US House of Representatives passed HR 1105 to repeal the estate tax. Before we go even one sentence further, know that the estate tax applies only to inheritances greater than $5.43 million. That’s very few; according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, approximately 0.2% of deaths in 2013 involved estates large enough to be taxed. Perhaps that’s why Republicans invariably refer to the estate tax as the Death Tax: 99.8% of Americans will not pass on taxable estates, but everybody dies. On Twitter, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) called it “a tax on the American Dream.” Speaking in favor of the Death Tax Repeal Act of 2015, he said:
“I rise to bring awareness to a pervasive tax that threatens the very livelihood of the future of generations of Montanans…This tax punishes Americans that have worked hard, played by the rules, and want to pass that legacy on to their children.”
I submit that 0.2% is “pervasive” the same way inheriting more than $5 million is the American dream.
There are two ways to read this satisfyingly provocative essay in Jacobin. Connor Kilpatrick argues that the intellectual left’s relentless focus on privilege—white, male, straight, cisgender, able-bodied, college-educated, et cetera—substitutes an abstract problem for the concrete problem of political and economic dominance by the wealthiest 1% of American households. Privilege is a sideshow. At best, it encourages us to ignore the problems of the middle class in favor of the problems of the most destitute. He writes:
[Privilege] is an attempt to shame the middle class—those with some wealth but, relative to the top one or one-tenth of one percent, mere crumbs—to make them shut up about the rich and super rich and, instead, look at those below as a reminder that it could all be much worse.
Kilpatrick cites as an example this article from Vox, which quotes a TED talk by Alex Giridharadas re: who gets to feel indignant for being in the 99%. Infuriating quote after the jump.
A New Yorker cartoon by Barbara Smaller, owned by Conde Nast
Halfway through this interview with Salon, critic of the Ivy League (and Ivy-League critic) Michael Deresiewicz discusses the way that our ostensibly meritocratic college admissions system serves to “launder privilege”:
Instead of saying, “You get to go because you’re born,” which is obviously unfair, we say, “You get to go because you have really great scores and grades and you’ve done a million extracurricular activities.” But the only way to get to that point is if you have rich parents. I mean, again, there are exceptions, but there are not a lot of exceptions.
Approximately 35,000 kids apply to Harvard each year, and 2,000 get in. When I was an SAT tutor, more kids submitted perfect scores to Yale than there were total admissions slots. As selective colleges become more selective, admissions become an arms race of adolescent achievement—one that demands more money than lower- and even middle-income families can afford. But we are invested in believing this system rewards merit, because the Ivies and so-called junior Ivies produce so many of our leaders.
The New York Times is running stories about inequality, and they are running hard. Today brings news that the American middle class is no longer the richest in the world. Our hardworking suburban football fans were tied with Canada’s hockey-gazing layabouts in 2010, and data suggest we’ve been surpassed since. Our poor—families at the 20th percentile of US income—make substantially less than families in Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands. But those are all socialist countries. Our working poor may not have as much money, but they have freedom. In the decade since “freedom” became the most important word in American rhetoric, per capita income has shrunk at the 40th, 30th, 20th, 10th and 5th percentiles.
Meghan McCain has overcome setbacks in her life—her father not being President, her increasing resemblance to the animatronic mask Arnold Schwarzenegger wears in Total Recall—but those setbacks have only made her stronger. Now, her political acumen and magnetic personality nepotism has earned her a talk/reality show on Pivot, the network for millennials. Somehow, she has named it Raising McCain, a title that encourages even viewers her own age to think of her as someone’s kid. But maybe that’s the point. Besides setting up Paul Begala, Me-Mac has contributed exactly zero ideas to American discourse. From a certain uncharitable perspective, she embodies the confidence of a generation. As Daniel D’Addario complains in Salon, her insistence that she is a pundit “is the hauteur that only a millennial could possibly possess.”