A significant obstacle to the realization of the free and equal status of all citizens within democratic societies is the inheritance of wealth — or more precisely, the intergenerational accumulation and transfer of wealth within families. The extreme wealth inequality caused by flows of inheritances can render a de jure democratic society a de facto aristocracy, wherein individuals’ life-prospects are determined largely by the economic class into which they are born. Because of this, liberal egalitarian justice demands limits on inheritances. John Rawls, for instance, recommends that intergenerational bequeathments and gifts be taxed, so that individuals can acquire only limited amounts of wealth through such processes over the courses of their lifetimes.
The Inheritance of Wealth: Justice, Equality, and the Right to Bequeath
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