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'Only morons pay the estate tax,' says White House's Gary Cohn

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'Only morons pay the estate tax,' says White House's Gary Cohn
Gary Cohn's comment that "only morons" pay the estate tax may seem like a Leona Helmsley moment for the White House economic czar. But a close look at tax data suggests that very few of today's rich are actually paying the so-called death tax.

The New York Times reports that as part of the tax-planning discussions, Cohn told a group of Senate Democrats that "only morons pay the estate tax." The comment was made to assuage concerns among the lawmakers that eliminating the tax, as proposed by the White House and congressional Republicans, would be bad policy and would cost too much in lost revenues.

The Times cited another source saying Cohn didn't use the word "moron" but was referring to "rich people with really bad tax planning."

Either way, the comment may strike some as just the kind of calloused, plutocratic disdain one would expect from a former Goldman Sachs executive who is now shaping tax policy. It recalls real estate billionaire Helmsley's comment that "only the little people pay taxes."

Yet while Helmsley was incorrect — the wealthy pay the bulk of income taxes — Cohn may have a point.

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