Curtailing Inherited Wealth

One of the most dominant themes in American ideology is equality of opportunity. In our society, ability and willingness to work hard are supposed to make all things possible. But we know there are flaws in our ideology. Differences in native ability unquestionably exist. Similarly, some people seem to have distinctly more than their fair share of good luck. Both types of differences are, however, beyond our control. So we try to convince ourselves that education evens out most differences. Still, we know there are immense differences in the values various parents imbue in their children. And we also know there are vast differences in the educations parents can afford for their children. Here too, however, we feel there is little to be done. We respect, if regret, cultural differences that lead some parents to value the education of their children less than others do. And we believe to the bottoms of our souls in the worthiness of the capitalistic game we ask ourselves and our children to play. So we take pride in the fact that some parents can provide their children with the finest educational opportunities imaginable. We have no interest in discouraging excellence in education, even if it is disproportionately available to the children of the fortunate. Instead, we satisfy ourselves with providing an educational safety net for all our children: our taxes support public education and land grant universities, and our charity funds scholarships.

When forced to acknowledge these differences in ability, luck, and educational opportunity, we admit that we do not play on a completely level field. But because each of these differences seems beyond our control, we tend to believe the field is as level as we can make it. It is not. For no particularly good reason, we allow some players, typically those most culturally and educationally advantaged, to inherit huge amounts of wealth, unearned in any sense at all. So long as we continue to tolerate inheritance by healthy, adult children, what we as a nation actually proclaim is, “All men are created equal, except the children of the wealthy.”