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The Conservatives’ Legacies: What should we do with Inheritance Tax?

A majority in the House of Commons has provided David Cameron with the freedom to do over the next five years some of the things that he’s found difficult over the last five.  One of the things that is set for reform is the law on inheritance tax, with the Tory manifesto having pledged to

take the family home out of tax by increasing the effective Inheritance Tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1 million – so you can keep more of your income and pass it on to future generations. (p 3)

(UKIP upped the ante on this, promising to get rid of inheritance tax altogether.)

How big an impact the Conservative policy would make is hard to tell: most people don’t pay inheritance tax anyway, and so raising the threshold would affect only a portion of the residuum that would pay it.  But, still: we might ask whether such a policy is just.  For sure, there will be some people for whom it’s attractive – archetypally, the sort of person who bought a property in a then down-at-heel part of London or Manchester a generation ago who finds that it is now something of a golden egg.  But attractiveness in a policy will only take us so far.  To answer the justice question, we need to look at the principles behind it.  And once we do that, I’m not so sure that the policy is just.  Indeed, it’s not clear that there’d be anything unjust about having a much higher rate of inheritance tax.

The reason for the claim that reducing the inheritance tax burden is unjust is straightforward: it means that those who were fortunate with their parents get a helping hand not available to everyone.  The children of dentists will, at some point, receive a capital benefit that would not be matched by the children of dustmen.  Since this difference is arbitrary – noone deserves rich or poor, thrifty or feckless parents – there is a case to be made that the just society would seek to smooth it out to as great a degree as possible.  At least on paper, we might be tempted to think that a 100% inheritance tax would be a way to do this: it would ensure that noone benefitted at all from ancestral good fortune.  In practice, there’d doubtless be all kinds of workaround that’d make such a high rate unenforceable – but the case might stand in principle.

Is the moral case, then, that easily made?

Almost certainly not.  There’s a range of things that we might think ought to be counted as arguments in favour of the principle of inheritance, and therefore in favour of minimising the tax payable on it.

One of these is a version of an argument from liberty.  We might owe a lot of our success in life to circumstances that we can’t control, but much comes from the sweat of our own brow, too.  There is – the argument goes – a certain amount of what we have that is irreducibly “ours”, to dispose of as we please.  If by the time I retire I have earned £5million from philosophy (no laughing at the back, please!), then I have a right based in self determination to give it to my kids (I mean it: no laughing at the back!) should I so choose.  Or I could give it to your kids, or the kitten sanctuary; or I could insist that it’s buried with me.  It’s mine, and I can do with it what I want.

Is this a defence of the principle of inheritance, though?  I don’t think so.  There’s a couple of reasons for this: though my right to bequeath may appear to entail my beneficiary’s right to inherit, it would seem that – as with all things – there’s an “all else being equal” criterion to apply.  Thus we might say that my preferred beneficiary has a right to inherit unless there is a good moral reason to divert the flow.  And it might strike us that, in a world where there is significant deprivation (both within the UK and internationally), and since inheritance is prima facie unfair anyway, and assuming that the intended beneficiary would still be at least minimally acceptably well off, there is a good moral reason so to divert it.

Further, “Smith should be able to do with her property as she pleases based on liberty” does seem to stop short of generating a right to inherit: “Jones should be able to inherit because of Smith’s liberty” sits strangely.

Plus, of course, by the time inheritance tax is payable, Smith’s liberty surely comes at a discount anyway, what with her being dead.  The dead don’t have much liberty in the normal run of things.

On the other hand, it’s not completely outré to suppose that there might be certain interests that people have the survive their physical demise.  We tend to think that we ought to take seriously their preference about the form of their funeral, or whether or not to donate organs; why not take their preferences about their estate correspondingly seriously?

The answer to this, I think, is threefold.  First, we could bite the bullet and insist that we shouldn’t feel any particular need to take preferences about organ donation or funerals seriously.  That might be an option, but we don’t have to be that radical.  A second answer is to point out that we can take something seriously without being overwhelmed by it.  (I can take a student’s desire for a first class degree seriously without thereby being compelled to award one.)  Third, it’s possible to draw distinctions between different desires.  Maybe a desire about organ donation is qualitatively different from a desire about assets – organs are part of a body, and part of the dead person, in a way that stocks and shares aren’t; funeral rights are “about” that person in a way a mattress full of cash isn’t.

There’s something attractive about this hierarchical view.  As the journalist Abi Wilkinson pointed out in a short piece a few weeks ago, we would think it strange if all the dead’s preferences were taken into account with equal seriousness.  Our parents and grandparents may have had strong preferences about how we should vote; but that’s just tough.  Maybe a preference about what happens to assets is nearer the voting preference of the spectrum than a preference about organ donation is.

Either way – either because we’re prepared just to ignore all preferences, or because we think that some are more important than others – it isn’t obvious that Smith’s preference that Jones should inherit her estate is overridingly important.  It’s not obvious that Jones has a right to inherit based on any claim we might make about Smith.  And, as such, it’s not obvious that Jones would have been wronged were the man from HMRC to take most, or all, of Smith’s estate and distribute it for the public good.

Another argument against increasing tax is that it punishes achievement.  But this is simply not true.  Noone would be denied the benefit of their own achievements while alive; a higher rate of inheritance tax, more widely applied, would simply mean that we would be denied the benefit of another’s achievements; and it’s hard, I think, to carp too much about that.  Nor would anyone be disincentivised from generating wealth: their family would still have all the benefits that come from having wealthy parents – with the exception of the one that is currently under consideration.  And since the claim I’m making here is that that one benefit is perhaps not compatible with justice, there may not be too much to say on this.

Finally, what about sentimental value?  In the Conservative proposals, a lot of emphasis has been put on family homes.  Maybe this is just emotional gloss; but maybe it isn’t.

On this front, though, it seems to me that the argument for inheritance is even weaker.  After all, our emotional attachment to something need have nothing to do with whether or not we have any kind of legal access to it.  At some point in the future, my brother and I might well reminisce about something that happened when we lived at the house where we grew up on S— Road, or when we went to stay with our grandparents at LLan—.  None of that depends on having the keys, though.  Sentimental value is durable in that way; it doesn’t, though, mean that we were wronged in our parents having sold the house on S— Road, or LLan—.  In a world in which noone inherited anything, whatever it is that makes sentimental value important would not obviously be dissipated.  And to the extent that sentimental value might fluctuate over time – something important to us today may not be important to us tomorrow, or vice versa – it’s not obvious that having some kind of legal title to it would make much difference.

And so I wonder: instead of aiming to make it easier to inherit more of one’s ancestors’ assets, might a just government actually have a moral reason – electorally suicidal though it may be – to make it more difficult?

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27 Comment on this post

  1. Philosophical:
    If you advocate taking 100% of any estate at death on the basis that it is unfair for some to benefit and not others, then surely you should also advocate not being allowed to give any money away whilst one is alive as that is equally unfair?

    – If inheritance tax were to be 100%, one may as well stop working once one has enough to live comfortably until death. That reduces economic output in many ways and if one stops generating income/wealth then the government would receive less tax.
    – If inheritance tax were to be 100% many people with a lot of money will go to a country that has no inheritance tax, and the government would get nothing.

  2. Iain Brassington, University of Manchester

    I’m inclined to think that giving away money while alive may frequently be unfair – but there is a difference, inasmuch as that it presumably means something to the the living donor that the beneficiary get the gift. It means something to the living, and therefore we have a reason to take that seriously. I’m not sure how seriously… but all the same, it’s a reason that we don’t have in respect of the dead. It doesn’t matter to them if their previously-expressed desires are not realised. (Having said that, I suppose that we could say that gifts over a certain value should be taxed, or possibly forbidden. I’m not sure of how the rules work in the UK at the moment, but I think that there is a sort of “quarantine” period so that estates bequeathed near the end of life and in the expectation of death don’t escape taxation.)

    As for the practical points: Well, the first – I’d’ve thought – applies anyway. But people tend not to be satisfied with comfort, so it’s not obvious that they’d stop. The second point may be true; but it’s not a mark against the virtue of a policy that some would try to avoid it!

    1. When you make your will you are alive and, at least in the UK, have strong reasons to be confident it will be carried out. Therefore, if you accept that meaning something to the living is an acceptable reason (of at least some strength) to allow people to do what they want with their money then it would surely allow bequeathals.

      Eg I would have thought it would be very meaningful to think- “I will not be here to look after my disabled child, but at least I have been able to make financial arrangements to allow them to leave a comfortable life and access the care they need”. Or, “I may not see my grandchildren, but at least the money I leave will see them securely housed in this era of unaffordable house prices…”

      Yes, it would not matter to the transition group of people who had those comforting thoughts while alive in the belief that their wills were effective, and who never know that this policy had come into effect after they were dead-they will never know the actual outcom and their lives would go the same. But for those who were alive during this implementation they would surely lose something while they were alive. People surely find meaning in planning for this type of gift even though they know they will not see the actual handover- probably just as much as or even more than givers who are expecting to get a thank you card delivered.

      1. Iain Brassington, University of Manchester

        True… but…

        A decent society would be one in which the disabled child gets at least good-enough care anyway, and in which people can afford somewhere to live (noting, of course, that doesn’t imply owner-occupancy). But if the next generation is in that parlous a situation, it strikes me as more likely than not that they’d not inherit anything particularly significant anyway.

        Of course there is a reason to take bequests seriously. But it’s not obviously an overriding reason.

        1. Yes, perhaps that would be true in a decent society but successive governments of both leanings have not delivered on either marker. (As an aside, I would want more for my child than “good-enough” care in any case, whether I was dead or alive).

          You seem to have have an enormous faith in government to spend our money wisely. But this is not based in history. That’s not to say that state spending is not important or that is not ever used for benefit- it is. But when you start to entirely replace personal spending with state spending I think there would have to be very strong evidence that it would indeed be used efficiently and effectively for the kind of benefits you envisage above and not for say, wars, PR departments for the government and so on.

          And even if governments did spend the money most effectively to achieve fairness, reduce injustice and inequality, then it would surely not be spent significantly in the UK- as Peter Singer has described, that would require them to be spending the money where it would indeed save the most lives per £ or in bringing the very poorest out of extreme poverty. After all, everyone in the UK is benefitting from ancestral good fortune to some extent (infrastructure etc). Indeed our ancestors (and us) have played a role in many cases in bringing this situation about.

          I don’t expect your post is aimed at those people who do bequeath to those types of causes. But if you think that the balance between justice / fairness/ inequality considerations and personal belongings lies *wholly* in favour of justice/ fairness (rather than, as most would say, somewhere in the middle) as a 100% inheritance tax would imply, then I can’t think of any reason why the more immediate society of one’s own nation should be favoured over justice/ fairness worldwide.

  3. IB says ‘It doesn’t matter to them if their previously-expressed desires are not realised.’ What about their family, friends and the wider society that has to witness the state picking over the remains of the deceased? Back in the real world – do you really think people would tolerate this abuse of power?

    1. Iain Brassington, University of Manchester

      Well, whether or not it’d be an abuse of power is not a given: if I’m correct in making the moral case against inheritance, it may not be. And what about their family? They might well be distressed about the death of a loved one; but “My father died but at least I got the Poussin” would be an odd sentiment to have. Likewise, “My father died and, to make it worse, I didn’t get the Poussin” would be odd.

      1. Of course it is an abuse of power. Your inheritance tax argument is not the main issue here, it’s your casual assumption that we do not have to respect the wishes of the dead.

        As it happens I am in favour of inheritance tax, but as usual you are being simplistic because you believe you have a moral case against inheritance. Shock horror, you are not alone in having thought inheritance should be stopped, but most of us quickly realise that social cohesion is best served if inheritance tax is set at a rate where rich and super-rich are taxed the most (I would say a great deal more). For the vast majority of people it is not a question of inheriting a Poussin. That’s just bloody silly and does not advance the moral and economic case for inheritance tax. The move to abolish inheritance is gathering speed, so we need to make sensible arguments for it on the basis social justice, solidarity and economics. Your very ’odd’ arguments will not stem the tide.

        1. Sorry – ‘move to abolish inheritance ‘tax’ is gathering speed’. Makes a difference.

        2. Iain Brassington, University of Manchester

          For “Poussin”, though, read any other asset of significant value. In most cases, it’ll be the house; but it could easily be cash or shares. The general principle stands, though, doesn’t it?

          As for the wishes of the dead: well, they are dead. And when it comes to respecting anyone’s wishes, I’m inclined to think that there’s invariably a tacit ceteris paribus clause involved. Sometimes wishes are absurd; sometimes – more importantly for this case – there’ll be competing reasons not to adhere to them. (Note that not adhering to them is compatible with respecting them.) I think that we shouldn’t treat the wishes of the dead as trumps; indeed, I have a hunch that we ought to apply a hefty discount to them.

          1. ‘…asset of significant value.’ You appear to be moderating your original position of 100% tax on all estates. Significant value these days is near a seven figure number, so we are already taxing at 40%. It would be possible to increase this level but much more it becomes unenforceable. If now your general principle is that we tax significant assets at an acceptable rate, we agree. If you think the state should have 100%, we disagree about the powers of the state.

            Obviously we should not treat the wishes of the dead as trumps, and nor indeed do we (the beneficiaries of a will can change it if they all agree). The state certainly has a role in preventing the living from making unreasonable wishes or setting up tax avoidance schemes (restricting entailments and trusts). That aside, I think you have your ‘hunch’ because you have little experience of death.

            1. Iain Brassington, University of Manchester

              True, I have little experience of death (and less of inheriting wealth). What of it?

              For what it’s worth, I can’t see why “significant” implies seven figures. I don’t think I’d have a moral objection to the tax-man taking a big chunk of estates worth quite a lot less than that; whatever the figure, I’m still not persuaded that there’s a right to inherit, and absent that right, it’s hard to see who’d be wronged if the inheritance didn’t happen.

              1. We should always tread lightly if we have no knowledge or experience of a topic. The ‘what of it’ is that it is shows.

                For what it’s worth, I assumed you had a figure when you used the word “significant” (not sure you would get a Poussin for much less than a million), so I took an above average estate which begins at a figure approaching a million.

                It’s hard to see what right the state has to appropriate all the wealth of the deceased. There is no evidence that any state has properly exercised such a right (really dislike all this rights talk), and nor is it conceivable that a state could do so now or in the future. If you are envisaging a completely different ‘state’ with a radically changed power structure, then of course inheritance might well become structurally obsolete. But until such times, the state, as with the wealthy, should have their powers constrained.

                1. Iain Brassington, University of Manchester

                  I’ve also got no experience of inheriting a great deal of money (and, since my family’s from Stoke where nothing is worth more than a fiver, never will); I don’t see why that precludes making meaningful claims.

                  I’m also not fond of rights talk – so let’s frame it in terms of the state’s proper function. One of the state’s proper function is to secure justice and minimise injustice. if interfering in inheritance is the way to do that, then so be it. Of course, when it comes to the crunch, it may not be that straightforward. But, at the very least, I wonder whether the presumption should be against inheritance rather than defending it; that way, it would be up to the (notional) inheritors to show why they should inherit. If they can’t, they wouldn’t. And I think they’d have an uphill task.

                  1. I have not said you are not precluded from making meaningful claims.

                    Changing the presumption against ownership of private property in a capitalist society is impossible without dismantling capitalism If this modest proposal is a piecemeal measure designed to achieve a post-capitalist system, it needs to be placed within that context (as I say, ‘rights talk’ is the wrong context) . There has been an opportunity of challenging this presumption with the rise of the second information age. Unfortunately, as far as most philosophers are concerned, the event is passing unnoticed when it comes to challenging and transforming private property and ownership. Carpe diem has not been the philosophers motto since the first information age.

  4. IB, with regard to “… it presumably means something to the the living donor that the beneficiary get the gift. It means something to the living, and therefore we have a reason to take that seriously. I’m not sure how seriously… but all the same, it’s a reason that we don’t have in respect of the dead.”, I would note that it means something to me whilst living to believe that a beneficiary of my choosing will get a “gift” when I am dead.

    Suppose I decide today to give a gift to someone 7 days from now but I die before then, what difference does it make to the ethics of that person receiving the gift in 7 days time?

    Regarding your response to my 1st practical point, I would go further and say that it is obvious that many people would not stop otherwise there would not be so many people around with more than a few million pounds in assets.

    Regarding your response to my 2nd practical point, it may not be a mark against the virtue of a policy, but it is against the practical value of a policy. After all, the primary purpose of taxation is for the government to collect revenue but if the policy actually resulted in less revenue then whatever its virtue, its practical value is negative.

    1. Iain Brassington, University of Manchester

      Yeah: I agree that it might mean something to you now that something happen in the future, even though you won’t see it – it’s the moral equivalent of a gardener planting trees that won’t reach maturity for decades, I guess.

      But the fact that it means something to you wouldn’t be overriding. There’re other considerations: after all, there’s any number of things that might be important to a person without thereby being important per se, or as important as other stuff.

      As for the 7 days point: well, again, there might be things that we could or should say about substantial gifts from the living!

  5. Part 2

    A single inheritance tax band is set at 100 percent of assets so as to cure the injustice of some people having wealthy parents, some people, feckless, &c. Just as the government suddenly rakes in plenty of money from all those caught unawares, independently wealthy and retired people start dissipating all their assets and working people decide to work less, knowing that what is theirs is theirs only until they die. Suddenly all manner of goods and services become scarce.

    The government asks: (1) Is there anything unjust about stripping people’s post-income tax assets off them while they are alive? (Assume they decide not on the same basis as in the article.) and (2) Is there anything unjust about forcing people to work against their will? We shall pay them the going rate, but they will lose it all whether through our 100 percent asset-stripping tax or in our 100 percent inheritance tax.

    There’s a range of things that we might think ought to be counted as arguments in favour of the principle of freedom of activity, and therefore in favour of minimising the interference with it.

    One of these is a version of an argument from liberty. Doing work gives one a sweaty brow (yes, even philosophy – no laughing at the back of the lecture hall). There is – the argument goes – a certain amount of what we have that is irreducibly “ours”, to dispose of as we please. If I am expected to live 800 000 hours before I die, then I have a right based in self determination to encumber it or not to encumber it (that’s funny – why don’t I hear any laughing at the back?) with remunerative labour according to my pleasure. Or I could bring up my kids, or volunteer at the kitten sanctuary; or I could bury myself in reruns of the Big Bang Theory. It’s mine, and I can do with it what I want.

    Is this a defence of the principle of freedom of activity, though? I don’t think so. There’s a couple of reasons for this: though my right to decide the use of my time may appear to entail my right to be unproductive/underproductive to society, it would seem that – as with all things – there’s an “all else being equal” criterion to apply. Thus we might say that I have a right to deprive people of education unless there is a good moral reason to compel me to publish/teach more. And it might strike us that, in a world where there is significant backwardness (in the UK at least), and since not needing to work is unfair anyway, and assuming that the idle don would still get his statutory paid vacation, there is a good moral reason so to compel him.

    Further, “Smith should be able to do with his labour as she pleases based on liberty” does seem to stop short of generating a right to keep society out of the goods and services it needs: “Smith should be able to do zilch because of Smith’s liberty” sits strangely.

    *On a serious note:

    An assumption that I do not think Dr Brassington addresses regards the fairness of the enjoyment of benefits. Inherited wealth is made to be unfair, on one ground, for reason that no one deserves rich or poor, thrifty or feckless parents. That of course means that none of the disponees by public distribution through tax of one’s inheritance deserved their share of it any more than the deceased’s intended recipient. The unfairness would equally well be remedied by converting the entire testamentary property into a pile of cash and setting it aflame. What need is there for the benefit to be shared on the basis of its prima facie unfairness, if indeed there even is any prima facie unfairness? Of course, there is a second point made that a social need exists for the public participation in assets over which the deceased has not a right of the same quality that he had in life, but it is not argued what is salient about something being part of the body or “about” the deceased’s body that stops social need from biting that high up the spectrum and what is salient about assets that allows social need to devour them. How our parents or grandparents would like us to vote is illustrative of the extreme lower end of the spectrum, but unless some use is made of it, it serves mainly to distract, for it is not something that they were even entitled to control in life. I wish Dr Brassington may perhaps say how assets are like our parents’ preferences about our voting and how our parents’ organs are dissimilar, or say if he think it a matter of judgment ultimately that will strike people differently.

    1. Iain Brassington, University of Manchester

      Hmmm. Where and how we’d place things like organs, trust funds, and voting preferences on the spectrum – and, indeed, whether there really is a spectrum – is something that I haven’t addressed here: you’re right about that. In my defence, it’s not something I meant to address, or could have in this post. At the very least, it’d require another post – but it might be a task for a full-blown paper. Gimme a while to see what I can come up with…

      While we’re waiting for that, I wonder whether there’s a slight straw man in your response when you assume that assets (or the cash they raise) would simply be given from Smith to Robinson. There’re cleverer ways of handling them than that! As you subsequently indicate, liquidised assets could be funnelled into a more general pot that’d fund public spending and/ or aid generally; this’d mean that the whole community would benefit, but – inasmuch as that the poor would presumably benefit more from increased spending on (say) schools than the rich, because the rich are already paying through the nose for private tuition – the least well off would feel the benefit. Who knows: maybe the rich’d start sending their kids to state schools – which’d have to be a good thing, for reasons of solidarity!

      Is public spending deserved? No. But here we might want to force a distinction between the just undeserved and the unjust undeserved. Noone deserves a better school; but that’s largely because desert doesn’t come into it. The same would apply, I guess, to many other benefits: Singer’s drowning child doesn’t deserve to be rescued, but that’s neither here nor there. There are certain times when conferring undeserved benefit is morally required.

  6. Bollocks. Its my money and I’ll leave it to whom I want.
    I’m already feckless, I gave up work over 10 years ago after Brown introduced IR35. Before that I used to pay over £50K a year in tax. Last year I paid less than £200. Society has lost £500K form me becuase of government policy. Compel me to work, go fuck yourselves and do something useful instead of pontificating about constraining my liberty. I cost the state nothing, I get no benefits either and I want none. You really are a bunch of arseholes.

  7. Anthony Drinkwater

    Perhaps a suitable compromise that would might satisfy both Iain and Keith would be that inheritance tax should be paid by the receiver, based on how much they receive, instead of the total amount left. If this tax was also a progressive one it would give the rich an incentive to give to lots of people instead of a few, but not “confiscate” the whole of their estate.
    I would add that the children of the rich do not just inherit wealth, but generally also a considerable “cultural capital” (see A Bourdieu’s work), so my sympathies are inclined towards Iain’s view. However, in the real world one has to find compromises ….

    1. Iain Brassington, University of Manchester

      I think that this proposal has a lot to be said for it, at least in practical, policy-making terms: it’s far more likely to be politically acceptable. There’s still a part of me that wants to hold back, though, and that’s because of a lingering concern about whether this would be the most just solution possible.

      To see why, consider an analogy with charitable giving. We allow people to give to whichever charities strike them as being particularly deserving; but we also know that, in practice, this means that donkey sanctuaries do very well, and organisations providing assistance to economic migrants, or those suffering from rare and/ or stigmatised diseases, do quite badly. The popularity of a cause may be related in some way to its all-things-considered importance, but it’s certainly not the whole story.

      I wonder whether something similar might turn out to be the case with your proposal: that those with a good but invisible and/ or unpopular moral case for a claim on the resource would still lose out, simply because the donor doesn’t know about/ like them.

      Quite how much of a barrier this is would be a different matter; it could be that I’m in danger of sacrificing the good on the altar of the perfect. (After all, if my concern is well-founded, it also presents a case against private charitable donation, which seems to be counterintuitive.) But… yeah. Still got this nagging concern…

      1. Anthony Drinkwater

        Thanks for your reply, Iain.
        I’m sure that you’re right that it would not be “the most just solution”. But I wonder whether the search for total justice isn’t a chimera.
        For example, it might well be the case that taking every new-born infant from their family to be brought up collectively for 16 years would give equality of opportunity for all children. But I doubt that, even if this were proven somehow, it would be acceptable to anyone.
        Keep your nagging concerns, however – they’re probably one of the necessary components of being a philosopher….

  8. Going through all of this at the moment, one thing that needs to be changed is the discrimination against unmarried, long time (28 years in my case) couples.
    People should not be penalised for being unmarried when a long term partner dies, and someone who has been in a relationship for many years, should not have less rights than someone who was married a day.
    It’s absolutely disgusting.
    And for those who think “Common Law” is something that exists — it doesn’t.
    The government is quick to tell you it’s a relationship and your partner is responsible for you, when it comes to benefits (bearing in mind that you each pay tax, unlike married couples) and that you’re not entitled to anything when you need to claim, because “your partner” earns too much. But when your partner dies… oh, no, you have NO rights to anything, because you weren’t married, and therefore there is no legal responsibility for any kind of provision. Everything goes to the next of kin, not the long term partner. (Especially if there is no will.)
    Cake and eating it, springs to mind.
    That has to change.

    1. Iain Brassington, University of Manchester

      I’m tempted to agree here: I think that marriage is granted more importance than perhaps it merits. But that’s for a different post!

  9. Harrison Ainsworth

    You are too gentle against bad arguments. Desert-based, liberty-based — they are dismal zombies.

    First, desert-based. Does a person actually build their house, car, etc by themself? No. So they do not deserve exclusive control of them after all. The retort is that a person *does* earn things themself, but by means of market interactions: it is not raw physical labour, it is more indirect, but of course still work. OK, so work is defined in terms of the system … but was not the original aim of the desert argument to justify the system’s allocations based on work? That is circular, so invalid.

    Second, liberty-based. If what a person does affects others, then no, they are not free to do as they please — for example, having control of limited resources. Leaving assets to one person’s freedom to dispose of takes away exactly that amount of freedom from those not given those assets (and no, they did not earn them — see above). The simple appeal to ‘liberty’ really depends on an assumed distribution of goods, which is the very point at issue. That begs the question, hence is invalid.

    (So much pro-free-market stuff begs the question; its hollow oblivious mannequin shambles about all over the place.).

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