There are other times when one wonders whether the Creator must drop His head to his Hands in frustration like the parent of a screaming two-year-old in Wal Mart asking other customers “Whose kid is that?”
At face value, the question seems so absurd as to be unworthy of a second look. But in fairness to Wilkinson, we’ll take one anyway.
Wilkinson’s main point is that in the United Kingdom,
“around ₤77bn [approx. $100 billion] is passed on in inheritance each year … Were that money redistributed by the state, it would cover the cost of adult social care several times over. It could plug gaps in NHS, education and police funding. It could provide the kind of comprehensive welfare state that meant nobody had to worry about their family after they passed away – because there would always be a safety net.”
Unfortunately, the math just isn’t on her side. The annual budget for England’s Department of Health alone – never mind the rest of the Kingdom – is well over $100 billion.
The fuzzy math doesn’t end there.
With an estimated population of 65 million, the redistribution of the entire $100 billion inheritance passed on each year would provide each person in the United Kingdom with an annual stipend of just over $1500 – or $125 per month.
Do you think that’s enough of a safety net to keep dear old Aunt Bertie from worrying about us? I’m sure she’ll be glad to know that upon her departure for the hereafter, the money she and Uncle Ned and all the other dear, departed souls worked so hard for will cover our cell phone, Internet, and satellite TV bills. Provided we don’t go overboard with the luxury packages, that is.
Looking beyond the math, Wilkinson’s arguments in favor of a 100% estate tax read like bullet points right out of the socialist guidebook. For example:
- Yes, the desire to pass on property to your descendants may be natural – but why should we be slaves to our biology?
- In contemporary times, most people agree that tax should facilitate transfer of wealth from those who “have” to those who “need”.
- Morally speaking, people who stand to inherit large sums haven’t done anything to earn that money. An accident of birth placed them in a comparatively wealthy family and they’ve benefited from that their whole life.
- Cultural norms teach us that the inheritance of private property is the default and any expropriation of this wealth must be justified. It should be the other way round.
But Wilkinson’s greatest shortcoming of all lies in the fact that she doesn’t even seem to understand the notion of private property. After noting that
Some may argue that leaving inheritance is a moral right. It’s not about whether the recipients deserve or need it, nor whether having the ability to do so results in productivity gains. The point is that the deceased earned that money and it should be up to them where it goes.
She follows up with what can only be described as a misguided attempt to claim that the rights of the living should trump the rights of the dead.
The problem is that she fails to see where this line of logic ends.
Let’s pretend for a moment that we enact her proposal. Private property – houses, land, cars, cash, stocks, etc. – is all confiscated by the state at death and redistributed as the need warrants. We live a generation and the scenario plays out all over again. And again. And again. And again.
Who truly owns the property in this scenario? The individual? The family?
If you answered “The State” or in Wilkinson’s case “The Kingdom”, you’re absolutely correct. In this scenario private property is never truly private. Everything – EVERYTHING – belongs to the state, and we are but its wards.
Now that is a scary scenario – one which undermines the entire concept of freedom.
Makes me grateful for the “accident of birth” that put me on this side of the pond.
Postscript: The irony of Wilkinson’s story is too great to ignore – an opinion column in a publication called “The Guardian”, in a section called “Utopian Thinking”, advocating for the distribution of wealth based on need as determined by the state. If you don’t yet see the irony, put Plato’s Republic at the top of your reading list.