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The most commonly used definition of what “sustainability” is comes from the Brundtland Report:

Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs

Environmentalists use it. Corporations use it. Politicians use it. Few have any idea what it means. We’ll delve into those particulars later in the fall. For now, lets simply think about a gaping inconsistency among folks who support this idea of sustainability and who also think the Estate Tax is a really good idea.

Sustainability in the sense above implies that future generations have a right (can yet to exist people have rights?) to a level of welfare at least as good as the current generation. Now that idea has serious problems but let’s just accept it at face value. If you believe in this, is it also possible to strongly support the estate tax? In that case, what is your position? That future generations have rights to as good a level of welfare as prior generations, but not all parts of those future generations. That seems awkward at best. My feeling is that any good defense that attempts to reconcile these views is going to lead you down a path which rejects the strict notion of “sustainability” as defined above. Either it will lead you to say that it’s ok for some generations to have less welfare if the entire future path of lifetime welfare is larger, or it will lead you to say something about individuals and collectives somehow having different notions of rights applying to them. In either case, the tread is thin.

3 Responses to “Sustainability and the Estate Tax”

  1. Rod says:

    I think the Estate Tax will prevent families from accumulating wealth from one generation to the next, and pretty soon thrifty families will be like the Rothschilds or Bilderbergers and will take all the money from everybody else and become like the Czars of Russia. Down with the Czars! Death to !

    When everybody has the same amount of money, everyone will be happy. Except the econ and business majors at the U of R — they are studying hard so they’ll make a lot of money some day.

    Also: free tuition at the university of your choice. Free everything.

  2. Rod says:

    I meant to say above, “Death to fill in the blanks.”

  3. Sean says:

    Hello,

    I’m working on an academic article along this same idea. I’d love to engage in some email correspondence regarding the idea. For example, how should the incentive effects to the next generation (i.e. the stereotype of lazy inheriters) be considered in light of sustainability?

    Best,
    Sean

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