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Hello, I honestly have a hard time around this point, as it's making me wonder about the whole validity of the beautiful "you get what you do". Or maybe I just completely misunderstood the point of capitalism. A doubt it is just that, so please don't put me on my mouth "then what you want? communism?".

So, let's say two guys, born at equal conditions, same opportunities, starting with same wealth, and both within the same free-market country began enterprising. OK.
Time passes and the one who plays the best gets a massive and deserved fortune, and the other just fails and remains middle-class. That's very nice.

Let's say each one decide to have a each one a baby, those still living in the same country BUT with the son of the rich has the enormous resources of his father to start with, and the other just have to earn it all from zero.

A very more radical comparation would result on comparing the chances of a rochefeller or even more royal family (I know this later comes by public money, but even if we get rid of them they'll later still retain all what they took once) descendants comparing with a little boy in afghanistan or haiti, still supposing they have exactly the same IQ, executive hability, talented ideas, and willpower to enterprise... . Please, don't refugee on "those places have a very limited economic freedom..." then I'd say ok; a poor boy in darwin and a son of a multimillionaire in melbourne (I put australia because it's at the top of economic freedom index).

So, inheritances seems just a big disturbing stone when it comes meritocracy. Any thoughts? Can you please justify it congruently in objectivist terms? Thanks in advance. :-)

asked Jun 21 '12 at 19:58

siarbossamedsol's gravatar image


edited Jun 21 '12 at 22:51

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

The concern I think is that inherited wealth disconnects the possessing of the wealth from the earning of it. But maybe that is just one of many things that are the luck of the draw in life. One may be born with more talent or raised in an environment conducive to virtuous behavior. I think this is why many liberals would not agree that there is an absolute right to all the wealth one can accumulate. So many circumstances influence that ability, especially the circumstances of one's birth.

(Oct 19 '12 at 19:26) Ben Mills ♦ Ben%20Mills's gravatar image

In a capitalist system the individual who acquires wealth (other than through force or fraudulent means) has the inalienable right to decide what to do with it -- this is what is meant by a "right to property" which according to Objectivism is a logical consequence of the "right to life". If you are struggling with this idea, then the rest of this answer will make no sense to you -- there is other reading you can do to understand why property rights are a proper and moral prerequisite of a capitalist system.

However, if you understand that property rights are a prerequisite to capitalism, then it is a simple step to understanding that dying does not invalidate a property owner's right to decide what to do with his property -- there is no logical reason why any third party, including the state, should now have greater claim over the property than the deceased property owner. Only the mechanism by which his wishes are made known -- a will -- changes.

The fact that in your example, one son received riches while the other received nothing, has nothing to do with the sons and everything to do with the fathers. It was the rich father's right to give his wealth to his son, or even to destroy it (the latter might be considered immoral in Objectivist terms, but still within his rights).

The rich son may start with more advantages than the poor son. However, capitalism is not about equality of outcomes, nor is it about equality of opportunity. It is about respecting individual rights, and this means allowing a property owner to dispose of that property as he sees fit, before or after his death.

answered Jun 22 '12 at 03:07

Raman's gravatar image

Raman ♦

I like your answer Raman, but I wanted to note that the justification for inheritance law may not be as simple as you imply. True, the right to property means the right to choose how to dispose of that property, which includes being able to choose to transfer ownership thereof. However, inheritance implies that the gift is made after the death of the Grantor (even if the intent to make the gift arose prior to the death of the Grantor, as evidenced, for example, by a will, the ownership did not transfer during the life of the Grantor). However, a dead man has no rights.

(Oct 20 '12 at 14:36) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

Thus the argument that a bequest must be honored by law merely because of the Grantor’s right to dispose of his property is problematic. That does not mean that I think the government should not enforce such bequests, but rather that the justification is much more complex than merely pointing to the right of the Grantor.

(Oct 20 '12 at 14:36) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

Is it more complex? If so, why? I am not implying a dead man has rights. I am merely stating that a man before his death may choose how is wealth is to be disposed after his death, thus exercising his property rights during his life. Even a man who leaves no will is doing this, by implicitly accepting the standard terms on which an estate is to be disposed (defined by the government).

(Oct 20 '12 at 14:49) Raman ♦ Raman's gravatar image

You say "it is a simple step to understanding that dying does not invalidate a property owner's right to decide what to do with his property". How is that not implying that a dead man has rights?

Anyway, I'm not sure the justification is that much more complicated. If we didn't allow inheritance, on the basis that dead people don't have rights, people would just use living trusts.

(Oct 20 '12 at 18:23) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Raman, my question to you is, why should the decedent's desire to transfer his property be honored after he is dead? That he formed the intent to transfer the property while he was alive and had rights to it does not change the fact, to my mind, that he has no rights to the property once dead. I am not saying that there is no good answer to the question, and Anthony may be right that it is not really that complex. My point is simply that answering "because he owns it" is not sufficient, because the decedent does not, actually, own the property anymore.

(Oct 20 '12 at 18:54) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

I don't see the issue here as being one of mechanics i.e. living trusts, wills, estates, etc. The real issue is posed by Eric: does a man, while alive, have the right to determine what happens to his property after death? If he does, then the mechanics can easily be worked out. In my opinion, he does, but as Eric asks, why? Simply by virtue of the fact that the property was gained by the use of his mind, his effort. If he has no right to choose its disposition, then who else does, and for what reason do they gain such a right?

(Oct 21 '12 at 00:58) Raman ♦ Raman's gravatar image

Maybe a better example than the living trust would be something equivalent to a lifetime estate. For example, I gift you my house but in return you lease it back to me for free for the rest of my life. Title transfers during my life, so this sidesteps the question of whether or not a man has the right to determine what happens to his property after death.

I'm basically in agreement with you though, Raman. The key issue is that we have the right to choose how to dispose of our property however we wish. siar's argument about inheritance would equally prohibit gifts.

(Oct 21 '12 at 07:10) anthony anthony's gravatar image

A properly structured living trust works too, at least if you agree that a legal entity can be the legal owner of property. In a living trust, the grantor transfers the property to the trust during his lifetime. So the trust now owns the property. The grantor exercises control over the property during his life. Upon death a new trustee is named, who then distributes the property to the beneficiaries.

Or if it's simpler to think of it this way, consider property which is transferred to a corporation or LLC during life, and then upon death a new corporate president or LLC manager is named.

(Oct 21 '12 at 07:24) anthony anthony's gravatar image

"The real issue is posed by Eric: does a man, while alive, have the right to determine what happens to his property after death?"

Interesting. My answer to that is no. A man, while alive, does have the right to determine who inherits his property after death. But he doesn't have the right to determine what happens to the property after death. And with the caveat that the "who" might be a legal entity such as a testamentary trust, I believe the law agrees with me on that.

Maybe that's what you meant, in which case I apologize for misreading you. But that's an important distinction.

(Oct 21 '12 at 07:45) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Interesting discussion :) @anthony: That is an important distinction. Leaving aside current law, which is often confused in matters of rights, I do believe what happens to is the correct phraseology. If a property owner wishes his estate, for example, to be destroyed rather than inherited, or inherited with conditions attached, IMO that should be within his rights, as long as his wishes do not conflict with the rights of others. Whether such actions would be moral or not is a different issue, but not one the law should generally be concerned about.

(Oct 21 '12 at 14:15) Raman ♦ Raman's gravatar image

If someone dies, and his will says "I want all my possessions to be destroyed", and no one wants to destroy his possessions, then "his wishes" do conflict with the rights of others.

A right sanctions a man's freedom of action. A dead person cannot act. He had rights while he was alive, including the right to destroy his possessions, but he chose not to exercise those rights while he was alive.

(*) They aren't actually his wishes any more. He's dead.

(Oct 21 '12 at 17:26) anthony anthony's gravatar image

That said, if the man's will set up a testamentary trust with instructions to destroy his possessions, and named someone willing to act out those instructions to act as trustee and beneficiary, the law should give lawful possession to the person named.

On the other hand, if the sole trustee/beneficiary, after taking possession, decided not to destroy the possessions, I'm not sure that anyone should have standing to sue.

(Oct 21 '12 at 17:32) anthony anthony's gravatar image

"...do conflict with the rights of others." --> yes, of course, this goes without saying. Presumably, if someone really did want this, he would make arrangements with the relevant people (executor(s), wreckers, etc.) before his death. If a will cannot be carried out without violating rights, then objective laws would ideally exist to deal with the situation e.g. property would revert to spouses, children, etc. But all of this discussion is somewhat offtopic re. the OPs post, which asks about the morality of inheritance.

(Oct 21 '12 at 18:19) Raman ♦ Raman's gravatar image

Why would it be immoral under the principles of Objectivism to destroy your wealth just before you die?

(Oct 21 '12 at 19:53) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

@Collin1 That is probably worth another question on OA, but briefly: wealth is values that result from the use of one's mind. Therefore, wealth is a good thing. Destruction of it for no reason is thus a bad thing. Everyone has values: perhaps family, perhaps others with similar values, legitimate government activities, charities, etc. It would be immoral to destroy one's wealth when one could instead support one's values, even after one's death.

(Oct 21 '12 at 20:21) Raman ♦ Raman's gravatar image
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Meritocracy is NOT an Objectivist value. Even for people who claim it as a value do not practice it consistently. If they did, they should be calling for tall basketball players to have their shoe laces tied together so that short basketball players can have a "fair" chance.

answered Jun 21 '12 at 22:32

Humbug's gravatar image


edited Jun 21 '12 at 22:33

Unlike ruling grandpa's corporation, being tall is NOT an inherited wealth (unearned). It is a inherited personal capacity, and therefore a valid meaning you can use to produce value. The point of my question is that someone who inherited a fortune did nothing in order to get it, so how come you guys excuse it?

But it is not a question of deserving, it is about unfair competition. If wealth is accumulative for generations, it means that a lot of talented people must be condemned to pay for the decisions of their ancestors, and the other rewarded for a gift that is not there anymore.

(Jun 22 '12 at 00:23) siarbossamedsol siarbossamedsol's gravatar image

"they should be calling for tall basketball players to have their shoe laces tied together so that short basketball players can have a "fair" chance."

This is exactly the antipodes of meritocracy, man.

(Jun 22 '12 at 00:27) siarbossamedsol siarbossamedsol's gravatar image

How did Michael Jordan "earn" his height? I would like for you to tell me so that I can "teach" my kids how to do the same.

(Jun 22 '12 at 01:20) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

He didn't earn it beacuse it is not wealth. Nobody's inherently poor or rich by being tall or small. Those are characteristics that one may or not use in his benefit.

Your kids has certain potential. Doing goodly with them is the most you can do in order to make competent, so they can reach as high as they want (and can). To get them a job in your company, transferring a massive amount of wealth(power) just because you love them is at least questionable.And as leftist politics are exactly "tying the laces of the good ones", why can't just think for something between the undiserable extremes?

(Jun 22 '12 at 01:40) siarbossamedsol siarbossamedsol's gravatar image

You're ignoring my question. Please show me how I can teach my kid to be as tall as Michael Jordan so that they can have a "fair" chance if they want to join the NBA.

(Jun 22 '12 at 01:50) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

If they are short (genetics), bad players (perseverance), ungifted, untrained (effort)... They can try it, but they cannot expect anything they don't deserve.

The problem is you probably choosed a bad example. As I said, gifts are not comparable to wealth, those are different things.

Imagine a son of michael jordan is a fat lazy guy who not only enjoys his wealth, but also michael joins him nba and gets famous regardless his lack of talent, even more destroying the established team. Meanwhile, there's thousands of anonymous people even better than michael jordan.

(Jun 22 '12 at 02:11) siarbossamedsol siarbossamedsol's gravatar image

You're jumping around. First, you focus on unearned. I gave you an example of something that is not earn and you ignore it.

Now you say something like gift <>wealth. That makes no sense.....if I give my child $1B then is that a gift or wealth? You're not going to get anywhere jumping around like that.

(Jun 22 '12 at 02:26) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

It is quite simple. To be tall, smart, faster, creative... is what we are gifted with. We can't make an effort to get it, but we don't choose it neither. If we apply it all with our will and decision making we get competence. My question is, Should your money (or any other product of your efforts or ancestors) be a substitute of your kids competence?

(Jun 22 '12 at 02:31) siarbossamedsol siarbossamedsol's gravatar image

If I choose to marry a pretty/tall woman and produce pretty/tall children, does that qualifies under "product of your efforts or ancestors"?

(Jun 22 '12 at 04:10) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image
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Asked: Jun 21 '12 at 19:58

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Last updated: Oct 21 '12 at 20:21