“Entitlements” are frequent objects of criticism. This label generally includes government payments such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (also known as food stamps) and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families – “welfare.”

Critics argue that such programs foster dependency, tend to keep people in their place in the socioeconomic ladder and consume funds badly needed for other government functions.

These arguments apply very clearly to the most lavish entitlement: inheritance. Children of wealthy families are more likely than children of poor families to get good prenatal and childhood medical care, go to the best schools from kindergarten through university, have access to promising career opportunities and have access to all sorts of “startup” funds from family. They can expect to inherit family wealth in their midyears.

These factors keep members of well-to-do families in their places in the upper levels of the economy.

Studies of economic mobility try to measure whether children are likely to move out of the economic class to which they are born.

Such studies consistently show that American and British societies keep people in the economic class to which they are born. Children of poor parents stay poor. Children of wealthy families become wealthy adults. France and Germany show greater economic mobility, while people in the Scandinavian countries are most free to rise, or fall.

Cuts in estate taxes – the “death tax” – make our society even more class rigid, fostering dynasties dependent on family wealth.

Some argue that we can’t afford medical care or good education for poor kids but we must keep our wealthy families wealthy, generation after generation, regardless of merit.

As we debate the effects of “entitlements,” we should look at all of them, including inheritance.

Wayne Myers


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