THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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Alice through the ideological looking-glass

Link: I've changed my mind on inheritance tax - Telegraph.

Dear God, this is in a "right wing newspaper?"

My family has never believed in inherited wealth. The idea of having a son who was a trustafarian, or a daughter who was an It girl, would horrify them. For generations they have turned out scientists, doctors, lawyers, teachers, vicars, civil servants and museum curators.

Money has never been their primary motive. When one great great uncle did finally make some money as chairman of the Ashanti goldfields in South Africa, he didn't share it among his nieces and nephews. On his death, he gave it all to help pay off the national debt (Gordon Brown would appreciate that), and handed his two Canalettos to the King.

Giving the net proceeds of taxed income to cretins to squander does not seem to me noble. Had he no family he would like to make independent, perhaps Alice's great great uncle could have founded a charitable foundation? What a tosser. As for giving his art to an aristocrat sitting on the untaxed accumulated wealth of a thousand years, what can one say? She may admire her relative. I think he was unhinged.

Inheritance is one of the few issues where Right and Left - Irwin Stelzer and Will Hutton - agree. Both believe that individuals and society do best when everyone has the same financial start in life.

What tosh. Inherited wealth provides a counterbalance to the overmighty state. If you embark on your career with nothing, as I did, you are fairly unlikely to find leisure in your lifetime to oppose the full-time gangsters of government, who have nothing better to do than impede wealth-creation and squander 45% or more of such wealth as is created despite them. When I expressed my youthful doubts about the morality of inherited wealth to Sir Keith Joseph, he said "it's an irrelevance. 'clogs to clogs in three generations.'" He was right.

In fairness, Alice gets the point to some extent. After remarking that she is "beginning to side" with Nigella Lawson's husband who will leave his wealth to his own child, she notes (somewhat grudgingly):

Nor is inherited wealth necessarily damaging to society.

Where is the heir to Thatcher to point out the feebleness of that thought? Doesn't "society" (which seems in practice to mean "me and people like me who want something for nothing from others") have to justify the extreme measure of confiscating people's already-heavily-taxed life savings? Why does a columnist in a "Conservative" newspaper start from the premise that the retention by the owners' families of their assets must be somehow justified to "society?" She goes on to note that:

The majority of British philanthropy comes from second-, third- or fourth-generation wealth. Britain would become very sterile if it were composed only of the self-made man or woman or the recipients of state support.

More than that, Alice. Britain would not merely be more "sterile" but much poorer. If the fruits of your lifetime's work are to be expropriated on your death, you will squander them. Is that prudent? Is that likely to promote the public good? Measures to prevent you squandering them (the inevitable consequence of your actions, in the twisted logic of social morality) will simply ensure that you never trouble to accumulate them in the first place. You will adopt the economic logic of the Communist era, expressed by workers in Poland by the saying "Standing up or lying down, it's still six zloties an hour."

Why are the British so focussed on the question of what to do with wealth? Most of us are quite poor. Surely the issue of how best to generate wealth is far more important? The research referenced in this pompous article (our Alice incredulously reports) shows that people want to pass on their money to their children. That desire motivates them to work, save and create. Frankly that should be enough. But our Alice, like so many others in our country is motivated more by envy than anything else. As witness her concluding paragraph:

If meritocrats such as Nigella are so keen on giving everyone the same start, it is the glaring inequality in schooling that they should be tackling rather than inheritance. It is the private education that Nigella's children receive that will give them the greatest advantage in life rather than any treasure chest they might be handed at 18.

Rousing stuff, comrade. I agree that inequality in British education is a scandal. However I do not blame those who pay from net income for their own children's education, thus sparing the state a burden (after having already paid through taxation for the education of many others). I blame the ideological cripples, past and present, who have trashed Britain's system of state education. Nigella Lawson is a fool, but to blame her for inequality of opportunity because she paid to educate her kids is like blaming the buyers of Mercedes-Benzes for the poor quality of Ladas. No bonfire of the Benzes will make Ladas run more smoothly.


Comments

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Robin Wilton

It's always struck me as bizarre that anyone would think the best way for "society" to make progress is to ensure that wealth doesn't pass from one generation to the next - except by the mechanism of having it all clawed back into the communal pot, so that absolutely no-one appreciates what it took to generate it in the first place. Surely a few minutes' reflection confirms that that approach has just as many ways of going wrong as any system of direct inheritance?

Phil A

Excellent point re the Ladas.

Lada actually seem to have got their finger out now they are no longer under the yoke of communism.

The chances of the British State ever getting it’s finger out are I fear vanishingly small under any party.

Under New even Labour less likely…

In heritance tax? - Theft, plain and simple.

Roger Thornhill

Indeed, politics of envy. Like a bucket of crabs, these people grab hold of those who have tried to make an effort, and in the process, all are dragged back and none make it to freedom.

There needs to be a term for the group that is currently hijacking the word "society".

Dave Petterson

The politics of envy. People motivated by it convince ordinary people that the state of their lives is to do with a third party because of things like inherited wealth. Like every one of these socialists they push and push until concessions are made and then on to the next thing. The same technique used the world over by salami slicing. Of course when it doesn't have the effect they promised it's because of the greed of the people and so on.

Good post.

Jeff

My mother died a while ago, leaving me a modest inheritance - and I certainly feel no "middle class" guilt whatsoever for receiving it... Reason? I'm aproaching retirement age and as I see it, the money left to me, carefully managed, will go some way towards making good the depredations done by Mr Brown to the pension fund that I've been paying into since I was 25.

Rob

The truth is Britain still has a lot of class hang ups.

Also "trusties" are some of the most infuriating people in the world.

Having said that I agree with you. More statism is not the answer.

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