Rhetoric and Economics in the Estate Tax Debate

Joel Slemrod and William G. Gale
William G. Gale The Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Federal Economic Policy, Senior Fellow - Economic Studies, Co-Director - Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center

May 22, 2001

In this paper, we evaluate and critique ten principal claims made in recent debates on the estate tax, distinguishing five types of statements: facts, rhetoric, value judgments, economic reasoning, and informed speculation. Economics can not fully resolve the debate because economic knowledge is inconclusive and because value judgments help determine optimal choices. Nevertheless, economic analysis can contribute substantially to informing these debates and we show that many of the claims on both sides are incorrect or incomplete, given what is known.

This paper was prepared for the National Tax Association Spring Symposium, Washington, DC, May 7-8, 2001.