What's Mickey Mouse Got to Do With Taxes?

Federal estate tax policy has been a contentious issue since the establishment of Bush’s tax policy in 2001. While its most adamant opponents deem it the “death tax,” supporters of the estate tax maintain that – besides being a sizeable revenue source –  it represents the fundamental American ideal of meritocracy. The estate tax helps to ensure that one achieves success by her own hard work, rather than by the fortune of his or her parents.

As I listened to United for a Fair Economy’s teleconference on the estate tax, I was amazed by Abigail Disney’s simple, yet powerful argument. She dispelled the myth that the estate tax impedes economic success. Disney – who paid a sizeable estate tax herself – pointed to her own family’s financial triumphs, noting that they were possible “not in spite of, but because of the American system of taxation." She reminded us that were it not for federal investment in highways, Disneyland would never have succeeded, or that if we did not have a strong court system Mickey Mouse’s trademark protection would not have endured.

The experiences of the Disney family serve as a poignant reminder of the ways that meaningful public investment can enable the culture, innovation, and values that define us as Americans. More importantly they show us that individual success and adequate government funding need not be described in opposition, but rather that they are woven together as the fabric of a nation’s prosperity.

The estate tax seems like a fitting way for the very wealthy to enable others to share in and expand this prosperity that America represents. It presents a symbolic bridge between individual success and our coveted democratic ideals. The adoption of strong estate tax legislation will not force us to choose between the individual and the nation, or the short term and the long run. Rather, it will serve all of the above.

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