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6/29/13

Congratulations, It's a Boy! - A Gay Man Adopts a Son

Editors note:
For a number of reasons most of the readers of this blog are familiar with Dan Mitchell. One reason is because we frequently feature his videos and essays here. Another is because he is on TV almost daily engaging in debate with some leftist economist or being interviewed about tax policy or the like. 
The most likely reason is that he is a guest contributor to this blog and most of you wouldn't dream of missing a post on this site. 
Okay, as usual, I engaged in some creative description (deception?) to make this blog seem more impressive than it actually is. The truth is Dan has given us express permission to republish his posts whenever we want. So we do that on a semi-regular basis. I try not to post too many of them because they always make my posts seem amateurish by comparison.
Dan's offerings are always interesting and educational but sometimes he hits it out of the park. The following essay is one of those home runs. Be sure to check out his blog, International Liberty. You'll be more well informed and generally happier if you do.
A Clever Example of Tax Avoidance, but a Quandary for Leftists and Social Conservatives
I generally believe that social conservatives and libertarians are natural allies. As I wrote last year, this is “because there is wide and deep agreement on the principle of individual responsibility. They may focus on different ill effects, but both camps understand that big government is a threat to a virtuous and productive citizenry.”
I even promoted a “Fusionist” principle based on a very good column by Tim Carney, and I suspect a large majority of libertarians and social conservatives would agree with the statement.
But that doesn’t mean social conservatives and libertarians are the same. There’s some fascinating research on the underlying differences between people of different ideologies, and I suspect the following story might be an example of where the two camps might diverge.
But notice I wrote “might” rather than “will.” I’ll be very curious to see how various readers react to this story about a gay couple that is taking an unusual step to minimize an unfair and punitive tax imposed by the government of Pennsylvania.
John met Gregory at a gay bar in Pittsburgh nearly 45 years ago and immediately fell in love. …Now, as lifelong partners facing the financial and emotional insecurities of old age, they have legally changed their relationship and are father and son — John, 65, has adopted Gregory, 73. The couple was worried about Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax. “If we just live together and Gregory willed me his assets and property and anything else, I would be liable for a 15 percent tax on the value of the estate,” said John. “By adoption, that decreases to 4 percent. It’s a huge difference.” …the couple had considered marrying in another state, but because their primary residence was in Pennsylvania, which does not recognize same-sex marriage, they would still be subjected to the inheritance law.
The Judge who approved the adoption obviously wasn’t too troubled by this unusual method of tax avoidance.
The judge did turn to John and said, “I am really curious, why are you adopting [Gregory]?” “I said, ‘Because it’s our only legal option to protect ourselves from Pennsylvania’s inheritance taxes,’” said John. “He got it immediately.” The judge agreed to sign the adoption papers on the spot and handed it to the clerk. Then he turned and looked at John, “Congratulations, it’s a boy.”
So what’s your take on this issue? For some groups, it’s easy to predict how they’ll react to this story.
1. If you have the statist mindset of England’s political elite or if you work at a bureaucracy such as the OECD, you’ll think this is morally wrong. Not because you object to homosexuality, but because you think tax avoidance is very bad and you believe the state should have more money.
2. If you’re a libertarian, you’re cheering for John and Gregory. Even if you don’t personally approve of homosexuality, you don’t think the state should interfere with the private actions of consenting adults and you like the idea of people keeping more of the money they earn.
3. If you’re a public finance economist, you think any form of death tax is a very perverse form of double taxation and you like just about anything that reduces this onerous penalty on saving and investment.
But there are some groups that will be conflicted.
Social Conservative Quandary1. Social conservatives don’t like big government and bad tax policy, but they also don’t approve of homosexuality. And, in this case, it’s now technically incestuous homosexuality! If I had to guess, most social conservatives will argue that the court should not have granted the adoption. We’ll see if there are some good comments on this post.
Leftist Quandary2. Leftists also will be conflicted. They like the death tax and they want the government to have more money, but they also believe in identity politics and wouldn’t want to offend one of their constituent groups.  I’m guessing identity politics would trump greed, but I suspect their ideal approach would be to tax all inheritances at 15 percent.
In my fantasy world, needless to say, there’s no death tax and the entire issue disappears.

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