Wealth Distribution and Inheritance

From an online debate on waccobb.net

Speak2Truth wrote:

Wrongs are most commonly inflicted by Government, especially seizing the hard-earned product of one’s labor to be redistributed to whomever the folks in power favor. That is one of the greatest wrongs, essentially enslaving one portion of the population to enrich another. The folks at the receiving end have no legitimate claim to ownership of what was seized and handed to them

Even if we take into account people who actually work day to day in their businesses, I would venture to state that the vast majority of the top income “earners” can not in any reasonable sense be said to labor. Managing money is not laboring. It may be hard work sometimes (though people at this level pay others to do that); it is certainly not labor. In truth, neither is being CEO of a company. Therefore we can rule out this entire class as people who are being robbed of the product of their (non-existent) labor. They are in fact, as I have pointed out in another thread, the very people who are robbing others of the well-earned fruits of their labor, while simultaneously operating a system of debt slavery. (The Company Store is alive and well, only now it goes by names like Visa and MasterCard.) I agree that these folks have no legitimate claim to ownership of what they have seized. They are also the principal recipients of the largesse of governments. Welfare for low-income people is vastly eclipsed by corporate welfare. Who do you think owns the corporations that profit from the ludicrously overpriced hardware that is so profligately wasted in constant warfare? 

So let us indeed stop seizing the product of labor and giving it to those who do not labor. Let us instead tax the income of those who do not labor, but live off the labor of others. 

And while we are on the subject of legitimate claim to ownership, I would like to know where you stand on the topic of inheritance, which is one of the mechanisms by which institutionalized power is concentrated and maintained. I would like to hear an ethical defense of this system from the point of view of a conservative who believes in personal responsibility. 

There are two ends to this, and most argument on the subject centers around the right of someone who has earned a fortune to distribute it as he wishes upon his death. I would argue that no such natural right exists. There is no natural law that mandates what rights inhere in the concept of ownership, and we are free to define those rights as we choose. We might decide, as we do with many activities that we define as crimes, that the social cost of this practice outweighs the desires of those who wish to indulge in it. We might take the view that a dead person no longer has any interest in the game, and therefore should not have any decision-making power beyond the moment of death.

This is not as revolutionary an idea as might at first appear. Several of the Founding Fathers wrote and spoke against the concept of inherited wealth, and Adam Smith himself said that it was perhaps the hardest concept to justify ethically.

But even if we concede the right for someone to dispose of his estate, we have a much harder time justifying allowing the recipient to receive it. Where is the personal responsibility there? What has this person done to deserve the money? Should he not be required to earn whatever he receives, as you are so fond of saying, by his own labor?

So other than “It has always been that way” and “People want to leave their money to whomever they want”, neither of which is a persuasive argument for the continuation of something, what justification can you offer for inheritance? 

And please, let us remain above the level of “well, what are you going to do, give it all to the Government to distribute?” stuff. If we can indeed agree on the principle, it should not be hard to come up with a reasonable mechanism. After all, the Social Security system works extremely well, and performs a similar function. It could be run like a giant mutual fund, and we are well-practiced at running those. It is untrue to say that government can never do anything right. If government departments function poorly it is because they are managed poorly by those we elect to see to their proper functioning. There is nothing inherent in the concept of government that prevents it being run properly. Unfortunately our electoral system has been hijacked by means of the campaign finance laws by people who have an interest in weakening government (which is the protection the people have against powerful interests.) So by deliberately mismanaging and underfunding government departments that do not function as money conduits for them they are able to demonstrate how badly government works.