Monday, August 4, 2008

Ochs Sulzbergers and the Estate Tax

The New York Times has been in the same family's hands since 1896. Adolph Ochs purchased the New York Times and, since then, the Ochs Sulzbergers have retained control of the family business through inheritance via a family trust. The Ochs Sulzbergers are the wealthiest of the wealthy, among the top one thousandth of one per cent in terms of assets, yet the inheritance or death tax has not affected them, nor do they seem to think it should. Recently, shareholders of the Times complained, alleging mismanagement on the part of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Adolph Ochs's great grandson, but the Ochs Sulzberger family asserted privilege of ownership. I wonder if Arthur Ochs Sulzberger would lead the most powerful newspaper in the country if he did not inherit this position via a family trust.

Despite the fact that the Ochs Sulzbergers have inherited their assets, live off an inheritance, and the current generation has done little of importance other than be born to the right great-grandfather, the Ochs Sulzbergers preach an inheritance or death tax for others, but not for themselves.

On June 21, 2005 in a baldly hypocritical editorial, the Times wrote:

"This is not about saving mom-and-pop shops or the family farm, as President Bush and his allies would have you believe. Repealing the estate tax would cut taxes for the top 2 percent of Americans at an estimated cost of $745 billion during the first 10 years of repeal. That is more than the United States is projected to budget for homeland security. Many supporters of a repeal say the cost would be $290 billion over the next 10 years. But that lower estimate includes five years in which the estate tax is still on the books. Properly done, estate tax reform would be welcome."

In other words, if you're a family of sharpies like the Ochs Sulzbergers then you get to inherit and drive a billion dollar family fortune you did not earn into the ground, but if you're a small businessman who doesn't think in terms of legal niceties and trusts, inheritance is a selfish and reactionary proposition, a matter of budget balancing for the elite to ponder. After all, the inheritance tax is targeted at grimy small businessmen, not virtuous aritocrats like the Ochs Sulzbergers who utilize trusts to avoid the taxes that they wish to impose on others.

Although I oppose the inheritance tax, I do favor a special inheritance tax for families who own newspapers in trusts. Let the Ochs Sulzbergers practice what they preach, frauds that they and the New York Times be.

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