Norquist exposes tax avoiders

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The guy's got a point.

I'm not a big fan of Grover Norquist, who will be in town April 4 and who is so against taxes that he apparently would have refused to pay his share of the cost of World War II (back when the government actually asked taxpayers to pay for wars as they were being fought, instead of pretending they were free and borrowing money that future generations will have to repay). Michael Krasny, the host of Forum, had Norquist on April 2 and didn't ask the guy if he would have cut the taxes used to fight the Axis Powers (there was even an "excess profits tax" on corporations during the war years).

But they did have some interesting back and forth about taxes, and Norquist made an interesting observation, one that I actually agree with. (Yes, trolls -- I have found myself agreeing with Grover Norquist.)

Krasny asked him about the pledge that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett made to give away half of their wealth before they did. Krasny seemed to think this was a great thing. Norquist was fine with it, too, but he put it in context:

What the great philanthropists are actually doing is avoiding the estate tax.

By giving away their money to causes they choose, Gates and Buffett will prevent the US government from collecting taxes on that money when they die -- meaning, in effect, that the very rich who go along with this plan are saying they would rather they choose the beneficiaries of their largesse than allow the elected officials who represent the public to have a hand in redistributing the wealth.

That's the thing about philanthrophy -- it's a fine, of course, but it's also a way for the very rich to decide what they want to fund -- and in many cases we're talking about museums and universities, not homeless shelters and indigent mental-health programs.

If we taxed Gates and Buffett at a reasonable level (and even Buffett says his taxes are way too low), then we might not be looking at cuts to in-home support services and other life-saving programs that the government "just can't afford" these days. (Of course, if we hadn't spent $2 trillion and counting on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- or if we'd raised taxes to the level needed to pay for those wars, which would have meant an end to them, we wouldn't be in such a deep fix anyway.)