Every American loves to pay income taxes. This goes without saying. It is an ancient tradition dating all the way back to the beginning of the 20th century. We stand together on this day and say “Yes, I am proud to contribute!” We are the picture of civic-minded lower-case “r” republicanism, shoulder to shoulder with our fellow citizens, be they lesser or greater, richer or poorer, shielding and obfuscating assets in offshore tax havens or barely scraping by, hoping there’s something good for dinner on sale at the gas station tonight. This is the noble sight of the rank and file of living and dead and unborn Americans marching onward to prosperity.
This system is all pretty great, except when a taxpayer can’t pay what they owe, on account of, for example, they died. What if they owe the government money? Well, it used to be if your old man died and owed the king some money then the king would send his man ’round your hut to collect the money. You might say you didn’t have any money, on account of being a child, and the king’s man would loudly inform you then that you now owed the king what debts your old man had incurred.
This old system is cruel, stupid, counter-productive and just plain bitchy. America rebelled against tyranny so that we didn’t have to pay for stuff we didn’t enjoy (like armies living in our houses and eating our turkey, and subsidizing the tea trade with India). This is the macrocosm of inherited debt, which we have always been pretty well-set against in this country.
This article in the Washington Post details stories about taxpayers being targeted to pay back to the government what their deceased relatives supposedly owe. Can the deceased really owe money? Isn’t life a precondition for debt? Not if it can be inherited, it seems.