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05/15/2005

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Many of the defenses of the inheritance tax argue that the person making the bequest has his fortune as a result of "hard work." Does anyone have any way of measuring how much of a person's income is the result of hard work? I guess one can use social mobility as a proxy, but that doesn't necessarily prove that hard work is in play. Places with more social mobility may be places where childhood advantages are swamped by randomness and not by meritocracy.

Libertarians seem to take as a matter of faith that the smaller the government the more social mobility, despite a lack of any evidence for that assertion. Nordic countries have much more social mobility than the Anglophone countries, and in the U.S., large-government states have more social mobility than small-government states.

The irony is that the generations that grew up in the New Deal era were the most socially mobile because of progressive policies. With those policies, hard work actually paid off, and so those generations felt most entitled to keep "their own" money and in the Reagan era dismantled the paths to upward mobility for those of us attempting to rise above our station in 21st century.

My support for the estate tax is based on two propositions.

#1: Ensuring a system where a person's income is based on how hard they work and not parental advantage requires public funding of education, food, health care for children and young adults to even out the playing field. This requires revenue, which requires taxation.

#2: We should avoid taxing as much as possible, income earned though hard work. Inheritance is income earned by having the right parent, and not by hard work (unless the heir worked hard to kill their parent, in which case, they shouldn't get the income either.) Therefore we should tax inheritance completely before start taxing wages.

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