Turning Kids into Capitalists

The campaign to abolish the estate tax shows the strange priorities in Washington these days.

Some 20 percent of American children live in poverty. Roughly 40 percent of all families have no financial assets to speak of, which means little for their children’s education. Yet Washington is obsessing over the relative handful of kids who must endure the estate tax. The place has become a virtual Wailing Wall of concern for trust-fund babies.

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Every Baby a Trust Fund Baby

Estate taxes are a problem that most Americans would like to have. Not many do. To qualify, one has to have a nice piece of change–at least $1.3 million for a married couple and, taking loopholes into account, more like $5 million. At present fewer than 2 percent of Americans achieve that kind of affluence. Some 40 percent die with no assets at all to leave behind for the kids and grandkids.

That’s the problem today: too little wealth at the bottom and in the middle, and not too much burden on the wealth at the very top. The fortunes of the Rockefellers and Fords have survived through generations, despite the estate tax. New fortunes are arising at a staggering pace even though the estate tax looms. But the wealth of most Americans has not increased in a corresponding manner. On the contrary, for the lower 40 percent, net assets have declined by some 75 percent over the past two decades.

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Kids Are Obedient — to Advertisers

If you want to get a sense of the spirit of this Christmas season — the commercial version, at least — you might pick up a copy of Advertising Age magazine. There you will find such articles as “Young Girls Targeted by Makeup Companies,” which describes the efforts of cosmetics firms to make eight year olds feel a need to paint their faces – to sell “kid makeup,” the magazine says.

Christmas cheer for advertisers means nagging, pouting, insecure kids throwing tantrums until their parents relent. It creates tension and chaos in the family, yet in reality it is a form of training — obedience training — that is taking place on a societal scale. Kids may
give their parents problems and headaches. But for advertisers they are cooperative to a fault.

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