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Death by a Thousand Cuts: An Analysis of the Estate Tax’s Demise

In 2001, Congress enacted legislation to phase-out the estate tax by 2010. The repeal is effective for only one year, however. The estate tax—referred to by some as the “death tax”—affects the wealthiest 2 percent of the population and represents a progressive source of federal revenue and a key incentive for charitable giving. Prior to 2001, the movement to repeal the tax was a primary focus of reform debates, but its elimination seemed highly unlikely. How, then, did the legislation suddenly sail through Congress? And how did so many Americans become opposed to a tax that would never affect them?

At this Brookings briefing, Yale professors Michael J. Graetz and Ian Shapiro will discuss the history of the estate tax and analyze the reform movement through the philosophical arguments that framed it and the interests that drove it. They are the authors of a new book, Death by a Thousand Cuts (Princeton University Press, 2005), that is based on extensive interviews conducted with the relevant policymakers and political players. Following their presentation, a panel will discuss their findings and offer insights into the broader implications of the tax reform debate.






Ian Shapiro

William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Political Science, Yale University

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