Inheritance in Capitalism and Ethical Grid


In their book “Moral issues in business,” the authors William H. Shaw seeks to demystify the notion that inheritance is justified by capitalism by examining the works of D.W Haslett. He explores this concept from a wealthy point of view rather than an income point of view where he identifies that though the top fifth of the pyramid in US populations earn an income that is about eight times that of the bottom fifth, they still happen to hold almost 400 times the wealth of the bottom fifth. In this scenario, the author identifies it to be the direct consequence of inheritance. He, therefore, goes further to identify the inconsistencies that inheritance has with the overall concept of capitalism and its principles.

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The principle of distribution of wealth according to productivity doesn’t apply to inheritance as some individuals effortlessly become wealthy as they inherit wealth while others have to work hard and still in the end they don’t amass as much wealth as their inheritance counterparts.

According to the capitalist principle of equal opportunity, the author identifies that inheritance gives an unfair advantage to a section of society that is born with boundless opportunities while others have to work hard throughout their lives. The author identifies that lack of initial capital forces a section of society to toil away throughout their lives while others are handed this initial capital without breaking a sweat.

The author identifies freedom as a principle of capitalism which means to have the opportunity to do whatever a person wishes without any coercion from either natural or man-made forces. Inheritance, therefore, contradicts this principle as some individuals are born with opportunities and the power to achieve their full potential while the poor in society are limited by a lack of resources and can only dream of the things that the rich are born with no matter how hard they work.

The author goes ahead to make proposals on the abolition of inheritance. He suggests that due to the inequalities occasioned in the society by inheritance, the government should pursue the distribution of wealth through the seizure of the estates of the deceased people. He, however, identifies that though there is infringe on the liberty of individuals, it still would be the right thing to do if done with caution not to enrich other people or the government itself.

The author finally identifies the arguments of those who object to his proposal of inheritance abolition. The notion that individuals are motivated by the need to leave behind an inheritance to their children is flawed as it is evidence in cases such as where individuals who have no intention of getting any kids still work as the parents in society. It is, therefore, imperative that we do not equate economic productivity to parenthood, but rather to the prospect of winning or gaining something in life for oneself.

Application of the Ethical Grid

The author suggests that all people should strive to promote economic equality as their moral obligation. This is in relation to personal ethics.

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The author identifies that the amassing of wealth is construed against egoism as individuals are motivated by their own interests. These interests, however, vary among individuals hence it is not justifiable to claim that individuals cannot be motivated by the need to leave an inheritance to their future generations.

Utilitarianism suggests that individuals should strive to work towards achieving societal goals that benefit everyone in society. The author in this case identifies that inheritance favors only a section of society while others are left languishing in poverty. He, therefore, suggests that through auctioning of the estates of deceased people the government will be ensuring that everyone in society enjoys the same amount of opportunities and there upholding financial fairness as wealth is distributed equitably

Libertarianism is the identification of justice with an ideal of liberty. The author identifies that, although abolishing inheritance will contradict an individual’s right to property as identified in the constitution, it will, however, promote liberty as freedom in its narrow sense will be upheld. For liberty to be identified as just, it should not compromise the freedoms of others. Inheritance has been identified as unjust as it creates artificial inefficiencies in the economy which hinders other members of society from achieving their full potential according to their productivity into the economy.


What ethical values have been violated?

The ethical imperative which is what the society dictates as ethical will be violated if the author’s proposals are adopted since at no time has the society allowed the seizure of estates. Society still goes ahead to praise those who seem to have amassed a lot of wealth for their future generations. The redistribution of wealth to the rest of society makes the group that is a society in general, prone to unethical acts which further serves to corrupt it.

What ethical reasoning should have been applied?

Nozick’s entitlement theory should have been applied since the concept of equality can only be approached through the fairness principle. Individuals should therefore be allowed to hold possessions so long as they are acquired fairly.

What new outcomes can be predicted using your ethical analysis?

Among the factors that can be predicted using this ethical analysis is: through this redistribution of wealth, society, in general, becomes wealthy, which would then become a problem if the same would have to be seized upon their death and this would lead people to coin ingenious yet unethical ways of ‘beating the system’.

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