Friday, June 11, 2010

Keeping it in the class

According to the NYT, billionaire Dan Duncan's estate has effectively passed into the hands of his heirs tax-free.

$9,000,000,000 split between four children and four grandchildren. All of whom were doubtlessly living pretty decent lives before Pappy passed on. I'm sure they had no problem launching businesses of their own, or going to college, or getting sweet business gigs using the family name. How much have they had to want for? How much have they done to deserve their share of nine billion dollars?

We the workers usually grow up thinking of money as a reward. We're like little monkeys, pulling the levers of capitalism and getting pennies in return. While the gold pours up, into the pockets of the masters of machines. Perhaps they, too, see it as a reward somehow ... their right, as the favored strata of society. Our magnificent benefactors.

Certainly, the NYT says, our friend Duncan "contributed to a wide assortment of wildlife foundations and community institutions like the Houston Zoo and Houston Museum of Science, and an assortment of medical institutions. The various medical centers at Baylor College of Medicine received more than $250 million from Mr. Duncan and his wife, with more than $100 million used to found the Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center."

No mention of how much damage his oil pipeline could cause. In disruption of habitat. In contributing to Co2 emmissions. In the frayed nerves and muscles of exploited workers. There are dozens of pipeline owners like this; they are innumerable throughout history.

Duncan was also an "avid hunter," although he was not content with the regulated hunting of deer - oh no. When you are wealthy you hunt the exotic, for fame, to have "more than 500 entries in the Safari Club International record book for killing animals including polar bears, rhinoceroses, bighorn sheep, lions and elephants." Most of which are now endangered, thanks to the reckless passion of people - especially rich white people - like Don Douglas.

And it isn't just that the whim of one man decided the buying and selling of billions of dollars in a lifetime, ending in an accumulated $9b horde, or that his donations (which only skim the top of his lifetime profits) inevitably also fund unelected bureaucrats. We have a society in which an increasing number of social programs manifest as nonprofits at the whims of the rich, rather than in a planned, democratic way that could effectively meet the needs of the poor or sick or unemployed.

No, nevermind that. The worst part is we have a government that can't even feebly challenge this family's right to boundless wealth. Somewhere, somehow, our government thought it would be good to suspend the estate tax (we don't really need that money in a recovery, anyhow, right guys?). And now we might never get it back, despite the fact that this looks like a "temporary measure":

"Many lawyers say Mr. Duncan’s heirs have the means and motivation to wage a fierce court battle to challenge the constitutionality of any retroactive tax."

Heirs of wealthy estates can hire lawyers to do just about anything to the laws, given enough time and in the absence of working-class response.

But I say screw it, a death tax is ineffective anyway. Get the wealth at the source - seize the workplaces. Redistribute the wealth from there. We can take care of the capitalist estates after they launch a reactionary counter-attack. All we really need to worry about is organizing against them where it hurts the most.


comrade x said...

Just got a tiny issue in what was otherwise a great post- the rich white safari hunter doesn't have much to do with the depopulation of big game animals. Habitat loss is the # 1 theat to the bighorn sheep and polar bear while in Africa it is the AK- 47, in the hands of poor black poachers, that is slaughtering big game animals.

Dresden Scott said...

Right ... but it's the hubris, the audacity. It still just reeks of colonialism. Ugh.