It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Take all the money off the dead people and get government to spend it on all the live ones. After all, who does want to live in a society where the lucky sperm club decides whether you can eat meat regularly or not?
There being ever such a small problem with this. We’ve had 100% inheritance tax societies before. And they’re not what we tend to think of as being the sort of society we desire to have:
In the Ottoman system it was the Sultan who owned the freehold to all, Pashas merely having lifetime access to an asset.
Now, perhaps it’s true that people shouldn’t prefer passing on wealth to their own children rather than to the society more generally. But those experiments in societal organisation across history tell us that they do. Do to such an extent that they will curtail current consumption in order to invest for the long term where their children benefit and won’t when it’s society.
We do need to be organising matters to deal with the raw clay we have available – us humans – rather than whatever it is people might hope is true of those who don’t exist.
At least Piketty is right about one thing, his proposal isn’t radical at all. Returning to the inheritance – and thus investment – patterns of Istanbul circa 1750 AD really doesn’t sound anything other than distinctly conservative, reactionary even.
At which point this idea of confiscatory inheritance taxes can be put to bed. We’ve tried it, it doesn’t work, next idea please.