Why the GOP Loves Death

Chatterbox has pioneered in the emerging field of necro-monetary policy (the study of the impact of economic incentives on the decision to die). First to explicate the implicit logic in the Republican Congress’ push to eliminate all inheritance taxes (see Allen, 7/12/99), Chatterbox followed up with empirical evidence in support of Allen’s hypothesis that, consistent with economic theory and the human distaste for the tax collector, high estate taxes are positively correlated with low death rates, and, conversely, low estate taxes, such as the GOP seeks, are correlated with high death rates (see Plotz, 7/19/99). Neither of these seminal contributions to the literature, however, satisfactorily explained (or, indeed, even attempted to explicate) the motivation behind the GOP leadership’s effort to accelerate the shuffle off this mortal coil into a 50-yard dash.

Most GOP politicians are, of course, in the forefront of public manifestations of piety. But with regard to the timing of a meeting with the Great Maker, they have been firmly on the side of later rather than sooner. So why would a pro-life caucus push so hard to eliminate a policy instrument, the “death tax,” as they routinely denote it, that has such a proven record of encouraging longevity? The answer may be found in a recent study emanating from the Urban Institute. In exploring the ramifications of Social Security’s long-range forecasts, researcher Lawrence H. Thompson points to a startling fact. Almost 60 percent of Social Security’s much deplored long-term deficit is owing to the expectation that, as the next century progresses, Americans will live still longer and, largely in consequence of their advanced ages, suffer more disability. Thompson suggests only two ways to deal with the projected shortfall: 1) cut benefits or 2) increase the share of GDP devoted to Social Security–i.e., raise taxes. Neither of these alternatives will recommend itself to a Congress whose desire to placate high-voting senior citizens is exceeded only by its desire to deliver big tax cuts. Thus the genius of the death tax repeal proposal: Why not cloak a sharp cut in benefits in the soothing shroud of a tax break? Bill Clinton must be jealous.