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Inheritance – more thoughts

Last week I stated my hope that the UK Conservative Party was showing possible signs of courage, as well as smart political opportunism in voicing support for slashing, if not completely abolishing, inheritance tax. The posting triggered a lot of comments, most of them nice and supportive of my view, and only a few in support of the tax.

One commenter claimed that inheritance taxes were a good thing because they broke up rich dynasties which the commenter thought acted as a brake on economic dynamism.

Is this actually true? In the 19th Century, for instance, Britain was indeed a class-bound society in many ways and the richest families enjoyed a standard of living beyond the wildest dreams of the humblest farm labourer. But Britain was in many respects an astonishingly vibrant and upwardly-mobile society too, often in certain respects even more so than today. Sir Robert Peel, the great Tory Prime Minister of the 1840s, was the grandson of a humble cotton weaver. Richard Cobden, one of the great advocates of free trade, a Member of Parliament and hero of classical liberalism, rose from conditions of great poverty. The list of rags to riches folk in Victorian history is long and makes for wonderful reading (it also puts my generation to shame, frankly.) Rich families, either deriving their wealth from the land or from elsewhere, were simply incapable of hogging the whole economic pie and denying any entry points to others.

As the writer Jenny Uglow pointed out in her marvellous book, The Lunar Men, the brightest and best entrepreneurs circumvented the old ‘Anglican establishment’ entirely on their way to creating the world’s first true industrial nation.

All this is a long-winded way of saying that those who inherit wealth may gain a temporary advantage which appears ‘unfair’, but in an expanding economy with new ideas, opportunities and ventures springing up all the time, it is hard to see how a person who has not inherited such wealth can say he has been denied a chance to make a good life for himself. (This, by the way, is not the same as privileges created by the State to favour select groups over others. That is a different argument).

And of course in reality rich businessmen over the centuries have realised that it was in their own interests to encourage and widen opportunities for the less well off, which is precisely why they endowed so many schools, libraries, musical orchestras, art galleries and the like, as well as political and cultural causes of all kinds. The ‘rich dynasties’ of Britain certainly did not, as far as I can see, act as a serious drag on the country’s economy. If there was a drag factor, it was more to do with the slow rise of collectivist economic doctrine towards the latter stages of the 19th Century, and the rise of State power and influence, which did much of the damage.

A final thought: some folk may imagine that inheritance taxes are okay because the persons affected are dead, so they would not care. Well, quite apart from the contempt this shows for the wealth a person has sought to acquire during a lifetime, it also rather ignores a simple point, which is that many people view their life goals as not simply to make themselves rich and happy, but also to build a better and fuller life for their children and grandchildren. That desire is itself a powerful incentive to work hard and create wealth, and is a spur to growth and the transmission of socially beneficial values.

36 comments to Inheritance – more thoughts

  • My knowledge of economics is not sufficient enough to argue about inheritance tax, but I feel forced to take issue with your claims about Nineteenth Century Britain. You claim:

    Britain was in many respects an astonishingly vibrant and upwardly-mobile society too, often in certain respects even more so than today

    How precisely? While it may have been a more open elite than, say, the French, your claims are so broad they smack of an anti-historicism.

    Sir Robert Peel’s family was rich from the new cotton industry in Lancashire rather than land, it is true, but to claim that his rise to power constitutes a ‘rags to riches’ story is taking things too far.

    Peel’s father was a wealthy cotton magnate rather than a humble spinner. Indeed, his father was clear that despite their new industrial wealth, his son should emulate older money. He forked out for young Bobby to be educated at Harrow and Oxford. Sir Robert Peel’s first parliamentary seat was a rotten borough, bought for him by his father.

    From your argument, you could claim Blair is a working class Prime Minister on the basis that he has spent a few months living in Hackney.

  • Johnathan

    To be exact, Jake, I meant Peel’s grandfather, who was indeed a cotton spinner from the Staffordshire area. Peel’s father was indeed a very rich man and sent his son off to Oxford.

    “smacks of anti-historicism”….I am not sure what you mean. Is anti-historicism something bad?

    Many industrialists of the time were either from humble origins or second-generation folk whose parents were. There are thousands of examples of considerable upward mobility.

  • limberwulf

    Great post Jonathan.

    The industrial revolution in the US was also a time of great upward mobility. In fact, the overall gap between rich and poor shrank most quickly during that period, a period in which the government had little or no regulation on businesses, and taxation was quite low.

    Unfortunately, the agenda driven “historians” of today try to sell some notion of “robber barons”. Rich factory owners feeding off of poor immigrant workers. The fact is, foundations such as schools, libraries, etc. were set up by those rich barons, and those immigrants were better off here than where they came from in most cases. That is not to say that things were perfect, there were people who were taken advantage of by factory owners and operators whose short-sighted thinking led to the formation of unions. Im convinced that had the government stayed out of the way, the unions would have accomplished their goal and then faded from existence untill such a time as they were necessary again.

    The other aspect of built-up wealth, is that some projects cannot be embarked upon by small bits of wealth. Charitable and business related things of great effect have been done by rich individuals and corporations. To break down those chunks of wealth would be a far greater brake on the economic advancement of a society than any sort of “dynasty building”.

  • To me it comes to the immorality factor of a death tax.

    Person A. Lifetime earnings 1,000,000 units, at death leaves 2.5 units, having led a spendthift life, spent his money on fast women and booze, and died on the care of the government hospital.
    Paid, the sake of argument, 35% on all his earnings before he blew them. Had fun until his last illness, which cost the taxpayer a small fortune.

    Person B. Same life time earnings, was a cheap, sober, humourless SOB, but invested wisely. Dies with an estate of 2,000,000 units. Paid the same % on his earnings though in the end that’s a lot more money. Now your’re going to tax his estate and some obscene rate on the 2 million? How exactly is that fair?

    Person

  • Tim Sturm

    Frankly, I couldn’t give a damn about the economic benefits or otherwise of inheritance tax. Property owners have the moral right to bequeath their property to whomever they damn-well choose.

    I can guarantee the Conservatives didn’t put it like that. Contemptible useless cowards. Vote for anyone but the Conservative Party.

  • Paul Marks

    It is often forgotten that the alternative to famly firms are the very “faceless corporations” that the left are fond of attacking”.

    Of course the corps are not hit by inheritance tax or by captial gains tax.

    Nor are just family companies hit (at least in the United States), private shareholders of corporation stock are also hit by inheritance tax and capital gains tax.

    In my life time we have seen a change from the majority of shares being owned by individuals, to the vast majority of stock being owned by institutions (Pension Funds and the like).

    The very situtation of “hired managers being under other hired managers, and people sitting on each other’s pay committees” that supposedly leads to all the “corporate corruption” and “short termism” that is so often attacked.

    Warren Buffet (spelling) loves the Death Tax because it makes taking over family enterprises less difficult “it is very expensive to plan for Estate Duty, sell out to me and you can stay on as managers and your children can have trust funds”.

    The children are turned into “trust fund kids” partly because the Death Tax makes it difficult and expensive to leave the business to one’s children. Money without the responsibilty of ownership.

  • My favourite rags-to-riches story is that of George Stephenson. He couldn’t read or write until he was eighteen.

  • Paul Marks

    i agree that double taxation (taxing someone’s income and then taxing again on his death) is even more unjust than single taxation. Double taxation stinks.

    As for the Conservatives failing to make the moral case against the Death Tax. Well yes, what many Conservatives say in private (and I have been a member of the party since 1980) and what they are prepared to say in public is so radically different that it is indeed a clear lack of guts.

  • Innocent Abroad

    Well, of course all expenditure taxation such as VAT or GST is “double taxation” too.

    If you believe that “taxation is theft” then surely you don’t have more and less hated taxes – you oppose them all, end of story.

    If you think that some level of taxation is justifiable, however, you will probably want to look not only at principles around (un)fairness but also at practicalities like ease of evasion, effect upon behaviour etc in deciding how to tax.

    I’m sure that Tory party members keep their views about tax to themselves, and I’m equally sure that the other UK parties wish they wouldn’t! (Figure it out for yourself…)

    The UK context is that Estate Duty has proved over-buoyant, and now draws far more people into its net than was ever intended to be the case. The interest of the political class is a consequence of the UK housing market, not any philosophical cobersion.

  • Innocent Abroad

    Well, of course all expenditure taxation such as VAT or GST is “double taxation” too.

    If you believe that “taxation is theft” then surely you don’t have more and less hated taxes – you oppose them all, end of story.

    If you think that some level of taxation is justifiable, however, you will probably want to look not only at principles around (un)fairness but also at practicalities like ease of evasion, effect upon behaviour etc in deciding how to tax.

    I’m sure that Tory party members keep their views about tax to themselves, and I’m equally sure that the other UK parties wish they wouldn’t! (Figure it out for yourself…)

    The UK context is that Estate Duty has proved over-buoyant, and now draws far more people into its net than was ever intended to be the case. The interest of the political class is a consequence of the UK housing market, not any philosophical conversion.

  • Richard Easbey

    Taxation IS theft, IMHO.

  • Tim Sturm

    If you believe that “taxation is theft” then surely you don’t have more and less hated taxes – you oppose them all, end of story.

    Yes. But the average thicko only hates those taxes which stand up and smash him in the face (before making off with his wallet). So you use those taxes to make a point of principle, loud and clear.

  • toolkien

    As I said in the first thread (and cutting to the chase) the accumulated capital that is the basis of inheritance has to be controlled by someone. The question should still be who should that be, bureaucrats or those chosen by the person who accumulated the wealth? In either case the wealth will be put to a use, either through the State as programs (speculate as to their worth elsewhere), or concentrated in continuing the capital, in which case the inheritor has shown good stewardship, or it will be wasted and dissappear, showing poor stewardship (and those transacted with will unduly benefit from inheritor’s poor trading). But someone’s value judgement must attach to the capital. The quesion, morally, is whose?

    Another point, which I don’t see here and I don’t know if it was brought up in the other thread, is that many times it is very difficult to pay these vast taxes as much of the wealth is illiquid. That is why much of the time life insurance is used to fund the taxes. So instead of pulling monies from the capital, it is funded from insurance companies’ investment portfolios. A drop in the bucket in terms of the market, but if aggregated has a huge impact. It is part and parcel of the misunderstanding of the ‘poor’ and the bureaucrats that they imagine that wealth is a person sitting on top of a mound of money. Mostly it is bound up in illiquid assets. It is ownership of productive resources, it is bound up with the long-term credit market, etc etc. But the gov’t wants the CASH NOW. Small minds going after ‘big pockets’. At this level it ceases to be about money for wants and needs, it’s Power and who possesses it. The State, of course, wants all the Power for themselves. It’s an easy sell given class resentments.

  • Nick

    A ripping good yarn from the 50′s, Nevil Shute’s “Trustee from the Toolroom” outlines the great adventures a typical englishman goes through in order to avoid paying inheritance tax on the estate of his young wards parents.

    He dealt with inheritance (and gross flaws in the socialism of Britain) as well in “A Town Like Alice”.

  • Verity

    Richard Easbey – Agreed. It is not only theft, but it is arrogant theft in that the government assumes it has a right to your labour free of charge. The term ‘tax slave’ is no joke.

  • Inheritance tax is pernicious, since it destroys the incentive for families to save. Only the Left s(l)aves for the State.

    If the Tories had any courage, they would make the case for abolishing all taxes that penalise thrift and self-reliance. This should be the first measure in the War on Tax.

    After all, if you save for retirement, for ill-health or for any other eventuality, it is abhorrent that the State lessens your ability to provide for yourself or your dependents through the imposition of taxes.

    Only the Left can find pride and profit in the propagation of moral hazard.

  • Verity

    Wise words, Philip. But why is it so difficult to persuade politicians of the eminent good sense of such a programme? It is baffling.

    Is it because most of the electorate is on the receiving end? I know Brown has now manipulated middle class families with children into paying more tax and then receiving some of it back as charity. Can it really be that clients of the state now outnumber the wealth creators? I suppose this was always the socialist plan.

  • Richard Easbey

    Verity:

    I’m not sure if you’re in the U.K. or here in the U.S., but we have nearly reached the point in the states that the “clients of the state” do indeed outnumber the wealth creators….look at the figures from the IRS about who pays what percentage of the taxes….it’s an obscenity. The bottom half of taxpayers in the U.S. pay somewhere around 4% of the taxes.

  • Verity

    Richard Easeby – I’m in N America, but not the US. I don’t think things are as bad in the US because the driving communist philosophy has never taken hold there – primarily because that philosophy is based on class envy and that doesn’t really exist in the US. Class envy there means when someone wants to have a three-car garage like you do, not take your three-car garage away from you and give it to ‘the poor’.

    Admittedly the term ‘clients of the state’ has oozed forward under sludgy Gordon Brown and now encompasses some of the middle class who are indeed wealth producers. But unlike the figures you quote for America, most ‘clients of the state’ in Britain pay no income tax because they are recipients of other people’s money. I include the public sector in this as their salaries, benefits and pension come from wealth created by others.

    I take your point, though. The state is creeping forward and getting greedier.

  • Pete_London

    Verity – agreed. I’ve long thought that the state has been trying to jerrymander Britain into permanently returning a Labour government. You’ve hit the nail on the head with taxes and benefits. Simply, give the majority welfare cheques and those turkeys won’t vote for Christmas. I believe its part of a bigger picture which includes uncontrolloed immigration (immigrants tend to vote Labour) and devolution (who in Wales and Scotland votes Tory). I’m sure there are numerous other examples but 10.00am is too early for this brain to work well.

    One of Blair’s phrases which stick permanently in mind came in a speech of his very soon after the 1997 election. I quote:

    New Labour is nothing less than the political wing of the British people.

    Creepy, dangerous and arrogant then, and ever more so since.

  • Inheritance tax= death tax= evil.

    There is no nastier tax.

  • thomasd

    There is no nastier tax.

    Maybe not, although they sometimes try to come close. Anyone worked out what stamp duty is meant to be about?

  • John Ellis

    @Pete_London:

    ….errrr. If Labour are trying to gerrymander the political system in the UK to return a perpetual Labour government (and I wouldn’t put it past them), could you explain to me how devolving Wales and Scotland (full of Labour voters as they no doubt are) helps them? Of course, at the moment, under existing devolutionary arrangements, those Welsh and Scottish MPs also go to Westminster.

    However, your general point is valid.

    I suspect ANY power grouping (including the Tory-inspired Boundary Commission review in the 80′s) looks to perpetuate their hold on power by any means feasible. Especially the longer they remain in power and therefore the greater the popular revulsion at their deceit and mis-management…..

    This goes for non-state power groups as well. The only advantage with statist power groups is that (sometimes at least) you can vote them out. Which is why they try to rig the voting system in their favour.

    Pure Darwinism. The Organism seeks to protect itself…;-) Why wouldn’t it?

    If it were the (old-style) Tories, they would lock in their own voter-turkey-farms with tax rebates, especially for the middle and upper-middle income groups. These would not then vote for the high-tax, high-spend “Christmas” that a socialist goverment might promise. Of course, tax is not the only issue here.

    I’m interested in your comment that immigrants tend to vote Labour. Do you have any evidence for that? Economic migrants, at least, might be thought to be more entreprenurial and free-market than the bulk of the native population….

  • Pete_London

    John

    I was in a bit of a hurry earlier and didn’t explain myself fully. By devolving power to the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament in certain areas of competence the government has effectively barred the tories from influence. They are parts of the UK which will vote for the proverbial monkey with a red rosette (or the Scot Nationalists which is a left wing, statist party anyway). Even if the tories were returned to government in Westminster via a sufficient majority of voters in England, their influence in Wales and Scotland would be very much diminished.

    I agree that any grouping will look to perpetuate their hold on power. Often it will have nothing to do with me but when the government steals my money to achieve it I find it wholly unnacceptable. They do rig the voting system but its not theirs to rig. Its ours.

    Tax rebates for the rich? Fine, great! They’re taking less of others’ own property. Let’s have tax rebates for everyone. Give others tax rebates by all means, just don’t give them that which rightfully belongs to me.

    I was citing anecdotal evidence re. the immigrant thing. If that’s bad form I hold my hand up. However a quick googling exercise comes up with this:

    The Government’s policy has been described as “talk tough and let them all in”. They will deny it of course but, as politicians, they cannot be oblivious of the fact that immigrants vote overwhelmingly Labour. They will deny this, of course, but they must know that, in 1997, 83 per cent of black and Asian votes went to Labour.

    Source – http://www.migrationwatchuk.org/papers/p_TheTimes_28Aug_04.asp

    Apologies for wandering off topic a touch.

    Apologies for wandering off topic somewhat.

  • toolkien

    primarily because that philosophy is based on class envy and that doesn’t really exist in the US.

    Uhmmm, I beg to differ. You can’t get a good State off the ground unless you pit A versus B (versus C versus D versus E, … , versus n)and that requires classes. Maybe you mean in the traditional sense, perhaps there’s an argument there, but there ARE classes here in the US. Enough people must think they’re getting something out of the system and ‘leveling’ the playing field against the other guy. How else does one explain a $2,400,000,000,000 annual budget, 3/4ths which is transfer (the other 1/4th for the military industrial complex)?

    Still I would argue that class in the traditional sense exists here. I work for a small manufacturer who employs people from high end white collar to the lowest end of the blue collar (the fact that we have such words is indicator enough of class distinctions). It is a microcosm of society. The blue collars don’t interact with the white collar and vice versa. The blue collar resent the white collar, and they assume they do all the work and we skim from them. We apparently party all the time while they work away. Unfortunately all the subtleties of running a business such as risk management, cash flow management, financing management, human resource management, compliance, economies of scale, treasury management, acquisition, valuation, budgeting, controllership, marketing strategy, discounting, logistics, etc etc etc etc, are lost on them.

    Perhaps the major difference between the US’s class system and other class systems, is that most of those who reach the upper middle class likely came from more modest means. We’ve worked on factory floors or delivered pizza or stocked store shelves or worked construction. We’ve seen the ‘other side’ while those who are firmly blue collar haven’t seen the other side. We obviously do have a form of aristocracy as well (old, northeastern ‘money’ families). But they don’t have quite the influence that such top families have traditionally had as most of the recent presidents have either come from the West or the South. It shows a dislocation from where the old money blue-bloods are and where the electorate is situated.

    I would also say that most of what is regarded as race issues are really class issues in disquise.

  • Verity

    “Immigrants tend to vote Labour”? What are non-citizens of the United Kingdom doing with a vote in elections which impact the future of the United Kingdom and its citizenry?

    Creepy, dangerous and arrogant then, and ever more so since. Yes. I’ve applied those words to Tony Blair since the first time I saw him as a national figure on TV (I’d been overseas for a few years.) Tony Blair loathes Britain and has been set on destroying it from within since he first slithered in to power. In fact, it has been obvious to the dullest observer that Blair set about destroying Britain the day 28% of the electorate were foolish enough to vote for him.

    As an aside: It is interesting that he is fanatical about destroying, or garnering unto to the state, the wealth of others when he has such a greedy wife.

  • Verity

    Toolkien – The United States does not have a class system or class envy. You have money envy and status envy. This has got absolutely nothing to do with royalty and titles, so let’s get our terminology straight. When we in Britain talk about class hatred, we are talking about something entirely different from the resentments, real or imagined, of a blue collar worker sitting in a bar and complaining about management’s reserved parking.

    Also, the US has always been fluid socially. (Some will argue that Britain has too, and I would agree, although it’s always been less obvious; perhaps because those jumping the class barrier tend to take on protective colouration.) Class envy is a virulent English disease and has been used to great effect by the communists – not least Blair.

    I thought your point about ‘racism’ was interesting, although I’m not certain how you would justify it. I’d like to read what you have to say, though.

  • toolkien

    It would seem that there is a semantical difference in the use of the term class. I didn’t expand on the point, but in the US we have ‘working class’, ‘middle class’, ‘upper class’, etc etc. Put another way, once a social order is set, regardless of terms used to describe it, resentments inject themselves. I agree that perhaps the US is more fluid, and did try and stress that previously (with movement between lower class and upper middle class more likely), but it doesn’t alter the fact that, now that the US is 225+ years old, there are people/families who have been perpetually poor, and those who have been perpetually wealthy.

    The fluidity does allow for movement between ‘classes’ more often, but I still assert that there are deep seated resentments embedded in the culture. So while my example may have seemed more topical, I believe that it rooted in long standing resentments passed from one generation to the next. There are many people, black and white, who believe less and less in the ‘system’ and that they are trapped by forces well outside their control. Of course, this has only increased as the State has grown. To reiterate, classes are the perceived misallocations of economic gain that transcend generations. The US is old enough to have calcified stratifications commonly referred to as ‘the proletariat’, ‘the bourgeoisie’, and a form of aristocracy (those privileged few with time honored connections to the corridors of Power).

    Even if this isn’t fully so, the lower class believe that it is the case, and it is what fuels the success of the theft/transfer system we live under. Perhaps the simplest way to put it is that the ‘socialism’ that Britain and the US exist under, for all practical purposes, are not that far apart. So, again, if Statism is a product of class resentments as I assert, then the root causes for our respective socialist-States we live under must be very similar.

  • A_t

    I’d strongly question this perception that social class is fluid in America. Most writing I’ve seen on the subject suggests that society both the UK & the US is significantly less class-mobile than ‘socialist hellholes’ like Denmark. The fact that America manages to sell a good story about anyone being able to make it to the top (which is certainly true, & furthermore true in most countries; it’s how likely it actually is that matters), and make it a central part of it’s national mythology/identity, doesn’t mean that this social elevation is statistically any more likely.

    If class is unimportant in the US, why are both presidential candidates; rich men who are both the product of an elite university, competing to see who is the most ‘regular’, ‘straight talking’ guy?

    Hollywood movies etc. constantly place the ‘straight talking’ guy who’s down to earth & has suitably humble roots against some feminized ‘nuanced’ rich-born aristo (yeah, fine he’s not a lord, but anyone born into wealth & living in an effectively separate culture will do; you don’t need a formalized system, the titles are just ornaments on the cake icing). When was the last time you saw a movie featuring a rich-born, well educated hero battling a working class villain?

    toolkein, “Perhaps the major difference between the US’s class system and other class systems, is that most of those who reach the upper middle class likely came from more modest means.”

    First off, without any evidence I’d question that ‘most’ word, but undoubtedly many have. However, it’s not so different from anywhere else; since WWII, most Western countries have seen a huge expansion of the middle classes as we’ve all got more prosperous & work has shifted away from manual labour. Where have most of these new middle class people come from? The traditional ‘working class’ mostly.

    This is certainly true in Britain, and we’ve been infected with the same inverse class snobbery; stupid middle class students pretending they’re working class & looking down on ‘toffs’, ‘cos it’s so much more ‘authentic’, don’tchaknow, resulting in a ridiculous survey recently where a majority of the population claimed they were ‘working class’ (my arse! have you looked round most of britain recently? Middle-class to the core).

    Some American commenters here have recently expressed a strange antiquated view of brits as somehow deferential to inherited privilege, when in fact many (most?) of us are quite the opposite (someone commented a while ago about a posh person he met, expecting deference from Americans; for your information, he’d be unlikely to find much in most of the UK either).

    & Verity, I think your contrast between Britain & the US on this front is mistaken; I agree that wealth jealousy is a big factor in the US; it also is in Britain, & is the primary factor in ‘class jealousy’ in both cases, but cultural factors are at work in both countries too.

    Consider an Etonian, Oxford-educated aristocrat in the UK, or East coast born, private-educated, Yale graduate ‘aristocrat’ in the US, both down on their luck & living in working class areas. I suspect both would end up treated fairly similarly by their neighbours, & both would feel significantly culturally removed from those around them; reflected in their accent & choice of food, drink, clothes, entertainment, friends etc. That’s what class is; that & it’s perpetuation over several generations. Very few populated places on earth, if any, are immune to it.

  • toolkien

    Last addition to this thread by me:

    If class is unimportant in the US, why are both presidential candidates; rich men who are both the product of an elite university, competing to see who is the most ‘regular’, ‘straight talking’ guy?

    It think this brings up one last feature of culture. The reason they are both rich is that, deep down, the average person needs someone to ‘look up to’ on the one hand, and resent them on the other (psychologically separating them into to two halves though). People have economic concerns and emotional concerns. Most people need something removed and abstract to believe in. Something better than they are, or likely ever will be. The ‘aristocracy’ is needed to give people purpose. Meanwhile, when the average person reviews their lot in life, they resent those who have more than they do. So they divide the haves into two parts – those ‘haves’ who Care and those who don’t.

    Conversely, the ‘haves’ who Care view the mass (proletariat) concomitantly as ‘salts of the earth’ upon whom noblese oblige is to be showered upon AND as a rabble upon whom restrictions must be placed. This is the root of cycle that we find in ‘democracy’ – the remote and removed form that we have here in the US in which a very small handful of people are sent hundreds of miles away to oversee what are operantly personal/individual concerns. We have a fractured mass who need to be led, while chipping away at leadership, and leaders who are egotistical who champion populist causes while remaining removed and aloof.

    So long story short, the only people who have a snowball’s chance are those who are well situated and can afford to market themselves incessantly (the rest of us are too bound up trying to make a living). Those are the folks who are perched at the top of the economic heap. People will invest whatever abstract positives they need to to justify the buy in into giving them institutional power over the rest of us. The privileged class, if one didn’t exist fully before, is born.

    I’ve touched on this briefly here before, but as I’ve been chastised for being too oblique when I get theoretical I’ve avoided traversing into straight theory too often. But, to echo A_t, I think every culture, State, and association, of any size, eventually is rigged to serve a privileged class. Revolution is inherent in associations. Institutions rise and fall, people join and fall away again. People join an association with hope, and exit disillusioned. Pyramid shaped hierarchies result, and the elite eventually justify manipulations in their favor, and the base gets disillusioned and exit. When the associations are voluntary, they rise and fall rather peacefully. When it is the State, force is used to maintain the association artificially long, and force is necessary to break away. They generally are more bloody. So the US is a unique beast in which, for a goodly period, most people were allowed to make small associations free from State interference, and most people were generally equal. All this has ended with the rise of Statism, particularly over the last 70 years or so. With the rise of Statism came the rise of an elite who rig the system in their favor.

  • Jack Olson

    In “The Law and the Profits”, C. Northcote Parkinson noted one of the cruelest aspects of the inheritance tax. In some wars such as the Crimean or WWI, some wealthy families lost more than one husband or son. When they inherited property from each other, the same property could be taxed at each man’s death. Thus a family suffered successive taxation as well as successive bereavement by a state in whose defence their men had given their lives.

  • Verity

    A_t – you make some good points, but I still maintain that the virulence of the hatred of ‘the toffs’ is unequalled in more egalitarian societies like the US. As you know, the whole hunting ban was a chunk of red meat thrown down for the slavvering class warriors. Class warriors of this ilk do not exist in any other country, that I know of. It is purely English (not British).

    I take your point about both the US prez candidates, although Edwards almost got the Dems’ nomination, and he’s a self-made lawyer – yes, boos, but he didn’t inherit his wealth or marry it. Ralph Nader is the son of a Lebanese immigrant and could have gone further if he weren’t a loony lefty. The dreaded Jimmy Carter certainly wasn’t a member of any ‘establishment’. My god, they’d never have let him in!

    My point is the fascism of the class warriors in Britain is toxic. We first saw them realise their own power when Diana died and they began berating the Queen and Prince Charles, and defiantly showing with their ghastly flowers in cellophane wrapping that their loyalties lay with ‘one of their own’ (which Diana most assuredly was not). There was a most unappetising relish about this. And they’re still at it – over hunting, for one, and laughing so viciously at ‘posh’ accents that even Prince William has started talking Estuary. The ‘alternative comedians’ were another example of the fascism of the class warriors, I contend.

    Maybe a Yalie and a Cambridge graduate down on their luck would be treated similarly by their poor neighbours – although, of course, this would demand on the nature of the two neighbourhoods. But this would partly be just resentment of privilege, which isn’t quite the same thing as class hatred. Toolkein may have a thought here.

  • Verity

    Sorry to jump in again so quickly, but in support of my argument above, I would even go so far as to say the reason the police in Britain are so ineffective and the reason they have announced they will no longer investigate burglaries is some demented lingering belief that people have have ‘things’ are toffs and the Robin Hoods who relieve them of their possessions are not sadistic drug addicts, but ‘poor people’ who are stealing a crust of bread to survive. In Britain, no matter how large a swathe is now genuinely middle class, there’s still an ‘us and them’ mentality.

  • A_t

    “As you know, the whole hunting ban was a chunk of red meat thrown down for the slavvering class warriors.”

    Actually, I don’t know that; I’ve argued several times that although the class war mentality is a component of the motivation behind the ban, hypocritical middle-class sanctimoniousness against those gaining pleasure via an animal’s suffering is a far greater component. I have absolutely no doubt that a majority of those who are clamouring for a ban would be equally vocal in support of legislation against similar working class sports like cock fighting or dog fighting if these were not already banned. Does their class war extend in both directions?

    You may well be right that it serves a useful purpose for Blair; bashing a few toffs is a cheap way to get wavering ‘socialist worker’-flogging types back on board the nu-labour gravy train for another general election, but I think the most worrying aspect is not those people, who we all know are loons anyway, but all the “decent” “normal” folk who will happily sit & condone this stuff, despite worse things being done to animals in their name on a regular basis. The crucial difference being that what’s done for them is out of sight & out of mind, & no-one’s [shudder] enjoying it. Now, where was radio 4 on the dial again?

  • flaime

    Those who are the greatest threat to the democratic process, the oligarchs, should pay the most to defend it.

  • So people who worked hard all their life and want to give their children their house are oligarchs? It is a complete myth that the only people affected by death tax are those top wealthy people, many of them are actually hard working middle class people who want to leave something to their children after investing well or working hard to build up a business.

    This is yet another example of statist class-warfare rubbish that misses the target and affects the less well-off. Much like London’s congestion charge if writ a great deal larger.