The year 2010 is a great year for rich people to die. As cynical as that sounds, it is the year in which estate taxes have been completely eliminated on wealth that passes on to heirs.

Four estates so far this year, including that of George Steinbrenner, have wielded absolutely nothing to the country that made the environment that produced their wealth.

Motivated by the billion-dollar estates passing to heirs tax-free, Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT) and four co-sponsors have introduced a bill that would return the estate tax to the 2009 exemption level of $3.5 million but add a progressive tax rate structure that would start at 45 percent, rise to a top level of 55 percent, and add a 10 percent surtax on billionaires. The proposal would be retroactive to the start of 2010.
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The year without an estate tax is a creature of the Bush tax cuts. Under the provisions of a tax-cut bill enacted in 2001, the value of estates exempt from the tax gradually went up over the past eight years while the tax rate on estates was reduced. During 2010, according to the 2001 law, the estate tax disappears entirely, only to be restored in 2011 at a rate of 55 percent on estates of $1 million or more, which is where things stood before the 2001 change.

One of the founders’ great fears was that the country would be dominated by a class of those who inherited wealth. That would seem to have been the great wish of the administration from Hell, that was so full of the inheritors of others’ earnings.

True to form, the elimination of taxes on vast wealth is not available to those of more modest means. The right wing has made few more blatant grabs of the best government welfare available for the very wealthy, passing the burden of that welfare on to those less able to afford it.