Death or Taxes

Recently in this column, Jodie Allen argued that Republican proposals to cut inheritance (aka death) taxes suggest that the GOP believes the supply of death is too low. “When you wish to encourage something,” Allen noted, “you lower the tax on it.” Because American death taxes are a confiscatory 55 percent on large estates, “it’s no wonder that most well-heeled Americans spend so much time and money avoiding the meeting with their Maker.”

This got Chatterbox wondering: Do death taxes bear any relationship to life expectancy? Do folks who live in countries with high death taxes actually live longer, fighting off the Grim Reaper in order to fend off the tax man? Do those who live in countries with low death taxes give up the ghost young, secure that they can pass everything on to their heirs?

So Chatterbox obtained a chart of worldwide death-tax rates from the American Council for Capital Formation, grabbed life-expectancy data from, and got to work. Death tax rates in the 24 sampled nations ranged from 0 percent (Indonesia, China, India, and others) to 70 percent (Japan). Average life expectancy varied from 62 years in Indonesia to 80 years in Japan. Click here for all data. After much calculation and graphing, the amazing truth emerged: Low death taxes correlate with low life expectancy, and high death taxes correlate with high life expectancy. Here is a graph of the data.

There are outliers, of course: Australia has a 0 percent tax rate and an 80-year life expectancy, while Koreans pay 45 percent taxes and live only 74 years. But the conclusion is evident: Taxes save lives. (Skeptics will undoubtedly carp that this is a small sample, that a dozen other variables could explain this correlation, and that the graph was cooked to make it look more dramatic. To which I respond: Well, yes, but bear with me.)

This discovery, which I will modestly call Plotz’s TheoremT, has staggering implications for public policy. Death and taxes are no longer the inevitabilities of the human condition. In fact, Plotz’s TheoremT demonstrates that mankind can now choose death or taxes. As the chart suggests, the United States could raise its average life expectancy to 100 years with a stroke of the pen: Simply hike inheritance taxes to 245 percent. (That is, you would not only give your entire estate to the feds, your heirs would also pay 145 percent of its value to the government.) Want an average life span of 150 years? Boost inheritance taxes to 700 percent!

Plotz’s TheoremT has even more dramatic implications for the world’s overpopulation crisis. India, for example, currently has no inheritance taxes and a life expectancy of 63 years. This is a fine start at encouraging death, but now imagine if India offered a 500 percent inheritance subsidy: Every time someone dies, the government would pay the heirs 500 percent of the value of the deceased’s estate. According to Plotz’s TheoremT, the average Indian would then die at age 7, solving the overpopulation problem in a generation. And if the inheritance subsidy were 570 percent, the average Indian would not even bother to be born.