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? Continue reading
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One of the first things I did after seeing the depressing election news this morning was check to see which of my Facebook friends ‘like’ the pages of the Conservatives or David Cameron, and unfriend them. (Thankfully, none of my friends ‘like’ the UKIP page.) Life is too short, I thought, to hang out with people who hold abhorrent political views, even if it’s just online.
This marked a change of heart for me. Usually, I try to remain engaged with such people in the hope that I might be able to change their views through debate. (Admittedly, I don’t always engage constructively with them. Sometimes, late at night, when my brain is too tired to do anything fancy and I spot an offensive tweet by a UKIP supporter, the urge to murder them in 140 characters is too difficult to resist.) Did I do the wrong thing? Should I have kept my Conservative friends?
by Nigel Warburton, @philosophybites
On May 3rd two men opened fire on a security guard near the ‘Muhhamad Art Exhibit & Contest’ an event in Garland, Texas, that advertised a $10,000 prize for the best cartoon drawing of the prophet. The assailants were shot dead by the police. Pamela Geller, the organiser of the event, is a political blogger, who, enflamed by 9/11 has mounted a well-funded campaign against what she sees as an Islamization of America and the ‘mosque-ing’ of the workplace (see this Washington Post article). The immediate catalyst for her draw Muhammad stunt was the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. She was within her US First Amendment rights to organise this event, and explicitly defended it on free speech grounds. She told the Washington Post: ‘We decided to have a cartoon contest to show we would not kowtow to violent intimidation and allow the freedom of speech to be overwhelmed by thugs and bullies.’
This justification is very similar to that behind the decision of Charlie Hebdo’s surviving editors to publish the Muhammad cartoon on the front cover of the first issue of the magazine after the murders. It also echoes a more nuanced version of this stance given by Timothy Garton Ash in an article in ‘Defying the Assassin’s Veto’ in the New York Review of Books, in which he argued for reproducing a wide range of Charlie Hebdo’s covers, not just those which satirised Muhammad. Where violence is threatened, and there is a risk of self-censorship through fear, one of the best ways of standing up to the assassin’s veto is to produce more of the very thing that offends the would-be assassin in reaction and solidarity.
By Nadira Faber
Why do humans help others even when it is costly and nothing is to be expected in return? This question has not only developed into a classic in different empirical disciplines, but is also of high interest for fundraisers like charities who would like to know how to increase donations.
In deciding whether or not to prosecute, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) applies a two-stage test. The first stage is the evidential stage: is there a realistic prospect of conviction? The second stage is the public interest stage: is it in the public interest to prosecute?
In the well-publicised case of the Labour Peer Lord Greville Janner the CPS has decided, in relation to a number of very serious sexual offences, that the evidential test has been passed. However, four expert clinicians, two instructed by the CPS and two instructed on behalf of Lord Janner, are in unanimous agreement that Lord Janner suffers from a degenerative dementia that is rapidly becoming more severe. He could not engage meaningfully with any trial process. There is no prospect of recovery, and no risk of future offending.
by Dominic Wilkinson @NeonatalEthics
Over the last week, the media has been full of the story of Artur Lubas*. Lubas was the co-pilot of a Germanwings flight, and is thought to have deliberately crashed a plane into a mountainside in a form of murder-suicide, killing 149 others in the process.
There are a range of ethical questions in the Germanwings tragedy. Carissa Veliz, writing on this blog yesterday, pointed to the ethics of disclosure of medical information – either in order to prevent a tragedy, or after a tragedy has occurred. There have been questions about screening of pilots for illness. Others have raised concerns about the unfair media attention on depression in the last week.
Here, I wish to draw attention to a separate question. One suggestion in the last week has been that Lubas’ extreme action was driven in part by a desire for attention. He apparently told a former girlfriend that “I will do something that will change the whole system, and then all will know my name and remember it”.
But this raises an interesting question: the intense media focus on the Germanwings tragedy, and on Lubas in particular, appears to have given him exactly what he wanted. Should we be worried about that, and is there anything we can do about it? Continue reading
Since it was revealed that Andreas Lubitz—the co-pilot thought to be responsible for voluntarily crashing Germanwings Flight 9525 and killing 149 people—suffered from depression, a debate has ensued over whether privacy laws regarding medical records in Germany should be less strict when it comes to professions that carry special responsibilities.
The discussion that the scientists in Nature and Science called for should remain in realism, not go on to superhumans
Just over a week ago, prominent scientists in Nature and Science called for a ban for DNA modification in human embryos. This is because the scientists presume that now it actually would be possible to alter the genome in a human embryo in order to treat genetic diseases. Consequently, this would result in modified DNA in germ cells that would be inherited to future generations. The scientists wish to have a full ethical, legal, and public discussion before any germ-line modifications will be made. Furthermore, issues of safety are of importance.
The scientists’ statement is of utmost importance and hopefully this ethical, legal, and public discussion will emerge. However, the discussion on germ-line DNA modification is at danger if the debate will be taken to the level of science fictional superhumans, as already has happen. Not only can such discussion cause unnecessary public worry, it also leads the deliberation away from the actual and urgent questions.