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March 30, 2007


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[Calls for the UK to apologize for the slave trade rest upon the idea that we have significant links with our ancestors, by virtue of our shared membership of society.]

surely these are calls for the UK *government* to apologize for its role in the slave trade, by virtue of the fact that it is the same legal entity that it was in the 18th century, owning many of the same assets and with complete historical continuity?

Matt Munro

I think the compensation for slavery argument rests on a belief in racial memory/conciousness, because the suggestion is not that only white people with demonstrable links to the slave trade should pay, but that ALL white people should pay.

Inheritence tax - your opinion will depend on

a) Whether you belive that all wealth is accumulated as a result of injustice/inequality
b) Whether you beleive that you will inherit anything...............


"Since nobody chooses their parents, it is as unfair to allow someone to be wealthy because of their class as it is to allow them to be poor because they are black or ginger-haired."

Isn't this taking the concept of the all-mighty state a touch far? Who is the 'we' that 'allows' people to be rich or poor?

Even if putting IHT at 100% over certain rates were to be wholly successful (and I doubt that it would) being of rich parentage grants children plenty of advantages beforehand - education for one.

Isn't there a distinction between not discriminating against someone for things they aren't responsible for, and not allowing unearned benefits? Where does a lottery winner fit into this?

Tim Worstall

"by virtue of the fact that it is the same legal entity that it was in the 18th century, owning many of the same assets"

Really? I think there's a few tens of millions of acres owned then which are independently owned now aren't there? Like Canada for example?


I have problems with each of your arguments. Your first two premises are uncontroversial: ceteris paribus, it is wrong for people to profit from injustice, and it is true that the current distribution of wealth is partly determined by historical events. However, I find it odd that you take our ignorance of whether an individual's inherited wealth was justly acquired as an argument in favour of blind redistribution. I take that point to cut the other way: if Mr. X's ancestor acquired his wealth justly, and we take it from Mr. X -- on the sole grounds that, for all we know, Mr. X's ancestor may have acquired his wealth unjustly -- then we have perpetrated a fresh injustice.

Your second argument seeks to shift the burden in a way that I find unacceptable. You're seeking to use force against people; I think it's you who needs to put forward compelling reasons as to why we should go along with that.

My answer to your final question -- "If we shouldn't impose costs upon people because of something they are not responsible for, why should we tolerate them getting benefits?" -- is simply that we're not dealing with a zero-sum game. We should tolerate other people gaining accidental benefits because it is no skin off our respective noses.


Should I assume that predeath gift transfers taxed as ordinary income would be okay? Would we also look forward to the extinction of all copyright on the death of the holder, or does it become a state-owned and proceeds-distributed copyright? Spousal "inheritances" are excluded, I assume, although perhaps characterizing them as "earned" has vulgar - or at least inselting - implications. And of course spouses are choices, unlike parents.

Ah, but thinking about a wonderful dodge - aged and wealthy dowagers marrying each other great-grandsons. Ah, that might revive the comedy of manners.


Sorry - one more!

"But don't think you can keep what others have earned"

Isn't this arguing in favour of tax money being given to those not fortunate enough to have rich parents? They didn't earn it, so why should they keep it? Isn't the question who has the best claim to the money - the state or the family of the deceased? If not having earned the money yourself is an automatic disqualification from having the benefit of it, isn't that an implicit repudiation of all Government benefit payments?


Dsquared -- if the argument is purely a legal one, it founders on the statute of limitations.


"why should we tolerate them getting benefits?"

Why should it be anybody's business at all?


So, while we would never punish Dillow just because his father was a crook, we should punish Snooks because his father was an honest and succesful businessman?

Mark Wadsworth

Inheritance tax is a shit tax and should be rolled into Land Value Tax.



I do not think that the case for inheritance tax is a sound one. Three reasons come to mind:

Number 1: Your analogy is inconsistent and flawed. There is a moral and existential difference between “apologizing” for a past evil (which, as you point out, is a mark of individual culpability) and “commemorating” a past evil – which, unlike the former, is a result on one’s national history, and one’s contemporary feelings about historical wrongdoing. There is nothing at all inappropriate about mourning or commemorating the distant suffering of dead slaves, but it is logically and metaethically fatuous to apologise on behalf of their owners – unless, that is, you subscribe to the Hitler-Mazzini-Fichte political theory of blood consciousness (i.e. genetic guilt or genetic superiority).

Number 2: Wealth, private or commercial, is one of the main sources of power in any society, especially free ones. If people are not allowed to inherit from their parents, which is the foundation of private property, which is the foundation of freedom, then everything would be subject to the state. Inheritance is a prerequisite for private life.

Number 3: You say: “It's wrong that some should benefit today because of past injustices.” Okay, so do you then agree with Robert Mugabe’s racist policy of confiscating “tainted” land belonging to white farmers? Again, this reeks of blunt-und-boden.


Rob Spear

Ahhh, Chris already believes that inheritance tax is a good idea, 'cos he thinks it punishes all those nasty Tory public-school goers which haunt his dreams. This post is just reaching for justifications.

In reality, of course, inheritance taxes hurt the hard working poor who managed to make something of themselves, while the rich manage to avoid the tax through their life long experience of tax evasion.


There is another reason for keeping it; it provides a disincentive to people thinking of murdering their relatives.

Chris P

If you have a 100% tax as a form of Inheritance Tax isn't this just a wonderful incentive for Tax Lawyers? As an example of the law of unintended consequences this seems to be a paradigm. After all IHT is widely derided as being purely voluntary by the genuinely wealthy.

emmanuel goldstein

Tim Worstall,
[Really? I think there's a few tens of millions of acres owned then which are independently owned now aren't there? Like Canada for example?]

The Queen is still Canada's head of State. Regardless, Dsquared's point is sound: that the UK has changed doesn't mean it has ceased to be be the same legal entity.

[...if Mr. X's ancestor acquired his wealth justly, and we take it from Mr. X -- on the sole grounds that, for all we know, Mr. X's ancestor may have acquired his wealth unjustly -- then we have perpetrated a fresh injustice.]

(1) Surely, in this context, 'force' is apter than 'violence'.

(2) If inheritance tax is levied on the estate of a dead ancestor of Mr X, then, since the ancestor is dead, nobody is a victim of force unless you presuppose that Mr. X has a right to his ancestor's entire estate. If you *do* assume that Mr. X has a claim to his dead ancestor's entire estate, then you're begging the question against the proponent of inheritance tax. Inheritance tax is, in fact, levied on the estates of dead people.

(3) No statute of limitations on crimes against humanity.



(1) I didn't mention violence.

(2) Chris wrote "It's wrong that some should benefit today because of past injustices". A Gricean implication of that statement is 'it is not wrong that some should benefit today because of past actions that were just'. Thus I am merely making use of an (implicit) premise of Chris's argument.

(3) Crimes against humanity are, as the name suggests, criminal offences, and as such can only be prosecuted against individuals, not governments.


You're not a parent, I suspect.

Children don't choose their parents, true, but parents do choose, or choose to have, their children.

Parents who have worked hard to be wealthy want their children to have the benefits of that. That's a main part of the reason they put the effort in ; to build a future for their children, help them buy their first house and so on. That's how I see it, I am relatively well off and I could doss the rest of my time by a mixture of spending all my cash, home reversion etc. No thanks, I'd like my two children to have the benefits when I die, not f**king Gordon Brown.

Removing this will remove their incentive to work ; why bother to produce over a certain level if the state will take it all ?

What would happen is an increase in the "residential care" multiplied massively. If you work hard and save and pay a mortgage the state takes it. If you sit on your backside and piddle away your money the state coughs up.

Why should anyone make any efforts beyond that to keep themselves/spouse if that effort is "redistributed" to those who can't be bothered ?

It's a pitiful NuLab myth that those who aren't well off are in that position because of everything other than their own actions.

Yes, there are a few people who are 'unlucky' (and there are similarly people born 'lucky' into wealth) ; but if you visit almost any state school in the country, you will see the masses throwing away their education because they can't be bothered to make any effort, and because they think the state will pay for them. At this point in time they're right, too !

What this bunch of prats want is not equality of opportunity ; they want equality of OUTCOME.

Which is, as far as I'm concerned, Stalinist.....


But don't think you can keep what others have earned.

I have no desire to. However, my father earned what he has and should be allowed to dispose of it as he wishes upon his death. It is, after all, his to do with as he pleases. What right has the state to steal it from him or those to whom he chooses to leave it? Not that it is likely to amount to very much anyway. The house, however may well take his estate into the inheritance tax bracket.

Sorry, but nothing you have said here justifies the state stealing that which has been earned through hard work and already taxed. Inheritance tax is nothing more than grave robbing and as morally reprehensible.


...it's just dishonest to apologize for things we personally have not done.
This too suggests a case for taxing inheritances...

Chris, sometimes your logic defies me. Tehre is NO plausible reason for inheritance tax. It is an abomination.

Andy Cooke

Your argument appears to limit "wealth" to capital.

Surely the education, values and ethics inculcated into your children are, on the assumption that not everyone teaches their children these identically, direct evidence of inequality?

My values and ethics were heavily influenced by my parents - they've helped me in many ways although not often financially (they've never been exactly well off). My inheritance is other than financial - but it's no less "unfair". Should this be acceptable?


(1) I don't see that

[it is not wrong that some should benefit today because of past actions that were just]

is a conversational implication of

[It's wrong that some should benefit today because of past injustices]

but let that pass.

There's no general rule to the effect that the CI's of one's premisses are also premisses. Quite the opposite: many statements of the form {Some x is F} CI statements of the form {Some x is not F}; nonetheless, arguments of the form {Some x is F, P |= All x are F} are valid. [Some men are good] CI’s [some men are not good]; [Some men are good] would still be true even if it turned out that all men were good.

You need to show some special reason why the CI of Chris’ premise should also be treated as a premise.

Young man

FYI inheritance tax rates above 30% are practically impossible to enforce as there is a simple way to get araount a IHT.

Give your estate away before you die or sell everything and give them cold hard cash when you die.

This is not mentioning the more regular methods like trusts etc.

As long as we are capitalist there will always be inheritted wealth.

Robert Schwartz

Liberal political theory breaks down over questions related history and identity. It has to because at its base it is ahistorical (The State of Nature, etc.). This is not say it is a bad theory. It is not. It just has its limits.

mitchell porter

"Since nobody chooses their parents, it is as unfair to steal from someone because of their class as it is to..." - to do whatever unfair thing you care to insert.

Do you not see that taxation is robbery, and musings over whether to have tax A or tax B are about which form of robbery is to be preferred? If you think gains have been ill-gotten, present your evidence, don't just indiscriminately rob the well-off because some of them are crooks.

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