Monday, 19 September 2016

Estate Tax and Limits to Wealth

Estate Tax and Limits to Wealth

Francis Coppola discusses  the “fairness” or otherwise of the tax paid by an estate when a person dies (previously call Death Duty, currently called  Inheritance Tax). It seems a rather easy ‘Aunt Sally’.  I think 'Estate tax' about the most essential, and least harmful, tax in existence. Great accumulations of wealth are bad for nearly everyone in society. But by ’great accumulations' I mean something like the top 1%. Gordon Brown was being snidely clever but at the same time very foolish in leaving unchanged the threshold for Estate tax, for with inflating house prices he got increased revenue, but seriously distorted the effect and purpose of the tax. Within months the Tories had realised that a great segment of the electorate would turn their way if they declared abolition of Estate Tax a manifesto issue. 

I had a letter in the Times back in 2007 on Tory plans to abolish 'Inheritance tax', which I think still relevant today. 
Date: Fri, 17 Aug 2007 

Dear Sir,

We are told that John Redwood has proposed abolishing inheritance tax. I have not heard anything so daft in a long time.

For one thing, Britain does not have inheritance tax; it has 'death duties' or 'estate tax' paid on the estate of someone who dies, though this has mistakenly been called inheritance tax since 1986. In many countries in Europe there is a true inheritance tax, paid by beneficiaries of an inheritance.

For another thing, death duties are among the most clearly beneficial of taxes. Death duties are not new. They were levied in Roman times and in Medieval England, and have been continuously applied in Britain since 1894. It has been argued that death duties are superior both to taxing income and taxing spending, for both those depress trade and productivity.

But the most significant benefit of death duties, which I hope everyone will bear in mind, is in combating the agglomeration of wealth into the hands of the few. This is of vital importance for there are so many ways in which the few powerful interests can exploit the many weak ones. Far from abolishing the tax on estates, it is crucially important for the maintenance of a wide distribution of wealth and stakeholder interest in this country that we improve the tax; target it better and collect it more fairly.  Yours sincerely,


I strongly recommend all political parties, and anyone interested in taxation, to read the “Mirrlees Review: Reforming the Tax System for the 21st Century”, which is magisterial in its scope, thoroughness, and disinterested high-mindedness. Besides, it is available online. Though published  in 2011, it is still relevant, because no attention has yet been paid to its recommendations.

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