Inheritance tax, once called death duties in Ireland today is called Capital Acquisitions Tax (CAT). The current rate of inheritance tax in Ireland in 2020 is 33%. CAT is a tax charged on money or property that is gifted to, or inherited by, someone. The recipient is responsible for the tax on the gift or inheritance. This is different to the UK where the estate of the deceased is liable for the tax .
Firstly we can see that this either or leaves no room for the conservative who is willing to concede a role for the state and the legitimacy of a certain level of taxation while holding to the principle of the inviolability of the individual as foundational. However far more concerning to our eye is the notion of what can be “rightfully” owned in any society. Economic issues aside it seems surely that this must be an arbitrary number which is unsatisfactory in such a crucial ethical issue. Ultimately this understanding of property held only with permission is to reduce ownership to some form of usufruct which is not what we usually wish to mean when we say we own property.
Then we need to consider how they understand property and the justice of taxing its transfer. For the sake of brevity I quote an essay reviewing Nagel and Murphy’s influential The myth of ownership it is meaningless to examine separately the legitimacy of the tax system and the system of property and pre-tax income. This second claim is actually twofold. One idea is that in the absence of a state there would be no markeT and no system of property to pre-tax income. Since there is no state without taxation, such market and property could not conceivably exist without taxation. The other side of the second claim — the baseline claim — is that justice ‘is not a matter of applying some equitable-seeming function to a morally arbitrary initial distribution of welfare’ (p. 30). Hence, the very existence of property to pre-tax income depends on the existence of taxation.
Well the reader can see one of two assertions that we might find problematic, such as there would be neither market nor property without the state. This or a cousin of this is the dominant philosophical position in the academy but it is far from the most radical or ‘progressive’ in its understanding of the relationship between the citizen and property.
There are probably many more but it seems to us that there are two very good reasons to agitate to abolish Inheritance tax. The first is based on the above. Perhaps it is naïve but any discussion which exposes the fact that many policy makers do not really believe that you own what you own would be a salutary experience.
The other less high minded reason is that getting rid of taxes is a basic good. We are a long way from the day when we have to battle libertarians for the right to impose taxes, right now they are mostly fair game and importantly this is a tax open to being deleted from the books. Scads of countries have got rid of it even respectable ones like Sweden, Canada and Austria. It can be done, let it be done.