Productivity and Inheritance
Diminishing inequality without losing the incentives
Erasmus Student Journal of Philosophy , Volume 14 p. 24- 32
The legitimacy of inheritance has long been of interest for philosophers and economists alike (Vandevelde, 1997). Traditionally, the problem of whether inheritance should be limited has been a matter of conflict between freedom and equality (Pedersen, 2018). From the viewpoint of freedom, people who have justly acquired assets should also be able to dispose of these assets in whatever way they see fit. From the perspective of equality, unrestricted power on the transfer of assets will inevitably lead to inequalities in wealth. The extent to which we value freedom or equality plays a major role in determining our stance towards whether to limit inheritance. If we prioritise freedom over equality, we should support people’s ability to bequest as it is just another transfer of assets. If we prioritise equality over freedom, we should act to limit inheritance since intergenerational transfers of wealth tend to result in the accumulation of wealth among a limited group of people and with that come greater inequalities in society (Pedersen, 2018). The traditional debate between freedom and equality is a good starting- point in inquiring about what we value in relation to the practice of inheritance. However, it is important not to stop there. As noted by Fleischer (2016), when discussing wealth taxation more generally, we also need to inquire about why we value what we value. Only with a clear understanding of why we value what we value, will we be in a position to scope out a comprehensive policy for wealth taxation that aligns with our value judgments. Likewise, for inheritance policy more specifically, it is important that we ask ourselves why we value freedom or equality. Do we value freedom to transfer assets because we see it as a right of each individual, or because it is the most economically efficient way to structure our society? Do we oppose inequalities in wealth because it is bad in itself, because it leads to unequal political power, or because it leads to inequality in opportunity? Our answers to these and similar questions will determine both if we are for or against limiting inheritance and what policies will serve our normative goals best.
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|Erasmus Student Journal of Philosophy|
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Abrahamson, M. (2018). Productivity and Inheritance. Erasmus Student Journal of Philosophy, 14, 24–32. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1765/124786