Biden’s Awful Plan for a Hybrid Death Tax/Capital Gains Tax

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by Dan Mitchell

More than 10 years ago, I narrated this video explaining why there should be no capital gains tax.

The economic argument against capital gains taxation is very simple. It is wrong to impose discriminatory taxes on income that is saved and invested.

It’s bad enough that government gets to tax our income one time, but it’s even worse when they get to impose multiple layers of tax on the same dollar.

Unfortunately, nobody told Biden. As part of his class-warfare agenda, he wants to increase the capital gains tax rate from 23.8 percent to 43.4 percent.

Even worse, he wants to expand the capital gains tax so that it functions as an additional form of death tax.

And that tax would be imposed even if assets aren’t sold. In other words, it would a tax on capital gains that only exist on paper (a nutty idea associated with Sens. Ron Wyden and Elizabeth Warren).

I’m not joking. In an article for National Review, Ryan Ellis explains why Biden’s proposal is so misguided.

The Biden administration proposes that on top of the old death tax, which is assessed on estates, the federal government should add a new tax on the deceased’s last 1040 personal-income-tax return. This new, second tax would apply to tens of millions of Americans. …the year someone died, all of their unrealized capital gains (gains on unsold real estate, family farms and businesses, stocks and other investments, artwork, collectibles, etc.) would be subject to taxation as if the assets in question had been sold that year. …In short, what the Biden administration is proposing is to tax the capital gains on a person’s property when they die, even if the assets that account for those gains haven’t actually been sold. …to make matters worse, the administration alsosupports raising the top tax rate on long-term capital gains from 23.8 percent to 43.4 percent. When state capital-gains-tax rates are factored in, this would make the combined rate at or above 50 percent in many places — the highest capital-gains-tax rate in the world, and the highest in American history.

This sounds bad (and it is bad).

But there’s more bad news.

…that’s not all. After these unrealized, unsold, phantom gains are subject to the new 50 percent double death tax, there is still the matter of the old death tax to deal with. Imagine a 50 percent death tax followed by a 40 percent death tax on what is left, and you get the idea. Karl Marx called for the confiscation of wealth at death, but even he probably never dreamed this big. …Just like the old death tax, the double death tax would be a dream for the estate-planning industry, armies of actuaries and attorneys, and other tax professionals. But for the average American, it would be a nightmare. The death tax we have is bad enough. A second death tax would be a catastrophic mistake.

Hank Adler and Madison Spach also wrote about this topic last month for the Wall Street Journal.

Here’s some of what they wrote.

Mr. Biden’s American Families Plan would subject many estates worth far less than $11.7 million to a punishing new death tax. The plan would raise the total top rate on capital gains, currently 23.8% for most assets, to 40.8%—higher than the 40% maximum estate tax. It would apply the same tax to unrealized capital gains at death…The American Families Plan would result in negative value at death for many long-held leveraged real-estate assets. …Scenarios in which the new death tax would significantly reduce, nearly eliminate or even totally eliminate the net worth of decedents who invested and held real estate for decades wouldn’t be uncommon. …The American Families Plan would discourage long-term investment. That would be particularly true for those with existing wealth who would begin focusing on cash flow rather than long-term investment. The combination of the new death tax plus existing estate tax rates would change risk-reward ratios.

The bottom line is that it is very misguided to impose harsh and discriminatory taxes on capital gains. Especially if the tax occurs simply because a taxpayer dies.

P.S. Keep in mind that there’s no “indexing,” which means investors often are being taxed on gains that merely reflect inflation.

P.P.S. Rather than increasing the tax burden on capital gains, we should copy Belgium, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Hungary, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Singapore, Slovenia, Switzerland, and Turkey. What do they have in common? A capital gains tax rate of zero.