The Republican tax plan recently passed by the Senate is not as bad a piece of legislation as its shrill opponents (who continue to pretend that a tax cut that could expire a decade from now is the same thing as a tax increase) pretend. But if Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) does not shut up, he is going to convince me otherwise.
In an interview with The Des Moines Register, Grassley defended the provision of the bill capping the estate tax on the grounds that it rewards those who save as opposed to those unnamed persons, presumably members of the working class, who "are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it's on booze or women or movies."
Who is this tax plan really meant to penalize, senator? The ghost of George Jones?
I wonder whether the senator has ever had a badly paying job. Like most boomers, he has come well nigh unto his biblically allotted threescore years and ten in an age that he does not understand at all. When Grassley was a young man, it was possible for someone working in construction to take an extra $20 left over after payday at the end of the week, deposit it at his local bank, and earn 6 percent on it indefinitely while being able to draw upon the capital at any time. This is to say nothing of the staggering amounts of money, totally unknown to my generation, that could once be earned with something as humble as a certificate of deposit. As late as 1985 it was possible to make nearly 11 percent on a six-month CD, just over 12 for a one-year. A woman who put away $1,000 she didn't need in liquid cash could nearly double her investment in half a decade without risking a penny of it to the vicissitudes of the stock market. Meanwhile a five-year CD taken out in 2017 is due to yield a whopping 0.86 percent.
Why under these conditions would anyone bother saving? Surely it is more sensible to purchase things before they become more expensive, to enjoy a bit more of one's earnings in the here and now than to bundle them away for no reward.
It is especially cruel of Grassley to condemn consumer spending when the same meliorist religion of limitless economic expansion preached by Republican politicians depends upon the premise that ordinary Americans will purchase more and more things that the senator seems to think they do not need. It gives the lie to all the hoary myths about capitalism and meritocracy beloved of Grassley and his colleagues; ours is a system in which the poor and the working class are expected to spoliate the environment and make themselves obese in the hope that on some economist's spreadsheet a few numbers will go up by a fraction of a decimal point indicating a healthy rate of growth. For Grassley to denounce his constituents for using money to buy things is like a farmer chastising his cattle for grazing before they find their way to the slaughterhouse.
But all this misses the real point, which is that there is nothing inherently wrong with not saving. Indeed, the wisdom of the ages, to say nothing of Christianity, is heavily weighted against miserliness, which does one no good on Earth or in heaven. "Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart," says the Prophet. To acquire a massive fortune is no sign of virtue.
And those who do stand to benefit from the revised estate tax? "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon Earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." We should take instead after the example of the animal kingdom, "the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them."
There is nothing wrong with spending money on drink. In fact, it is hard to think of a better use for it, save the maintenance of the poor. A guy who buys another pitcher for his friends at the bar brings happiness, however fleeting. A guy who obsessively dumps his newest paycheck into his eTrade account in the hope of shorting some Chinese agricultural tech stock makes nobody happier, least of all himself. If he likes watching numbers go up on a screen, he should just play Pokémon.
Money is at best unimportant, at worst the root of all evil. Use it joyfully. Take your kids to see the new stupid Star Wars and don't say no to the bigger popcorn or the gummy sharks. Buy your wife that dress. Pick up that tab and the next one. Your relations 40 years from now will not will not begrudge you the $1.50 in interest you could have earned on those last two beers in the ensuing four decades.