Wednesday, April 13, 2016
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Panama Papers leak offer India an opportunity to rationalise inheritance

PANAMA PAPERS have demonstrated how unfettered inheritance turns leaders and celebrities into petty thieves and knaving dynastic slaves. In 2004, I read in the UTNE READER that the founding fathers of free market economy had very strict views on inheritance, and that they strongly disapproved the policy of unfettered inheritance. I realised the simple equation that "Capitalism without the compounding effects of inheritance was actually some kind of socialism."

In 2004 the effects of unfettered inheritance that my own country was experiencing had still not dawned on me.The most recent developments in the political arena have again underlined the fundamental truth of this pathway to disaster. Humans at a mass level have yet to come to terms with their natural mortality, this is a problem as old as civilisation.

History is replete with examples of powerful emperors applying their full might and wealth to locate the spring of eternal youth and immortality. Much of the initial development of alchemy and subsequently chemistry happened because of this.

The accumulation of huge wealth is actually, at a very personal level a kind of bypass to our natural mortality. In such a situation when one hears that one’s wealth should be taxed after his death the idea is rejected at a fundamental level in the mind. Yet almost all countries across the world have a rationalized approach to inheritance. This is to say that wealth is passed from generation to generation without tax only up to a level. Beyond that it is taxed heavily. 

How it leads to a stable society

Good governance is not possible without a rationalised inheritance policy. In its absence, the super rich and super powerful also become super greedy, subverting through an intricate web of subterfuge and deceit, the most well laid out plans built on good intentions. However, how is one to set right the situation?

We are all caught up in the same race in a field in which the opportunities as well as wealth is increasingly concentrated in a few families. We are all too close to the trees to see the woods! Allow me to describe how the Eskimos hunt wolves in the cold and frozen continent which is their natural home. They simply plant a sharp knife, the handle firmly held in the ice and the sharp blade exposed to the cold air. The blade is tipped with a few drops of blood. The Eskimo then goes back to his dwelling. The hungry wolf smells the blood from miles away, comes to the dagger and out of curiosity licks the blade, which cuts his tongue. The wolf goes on licking till he bleeds to death.

Good governance is not possible without a rationalised inheritance policy. In its absence, the super rich and super powerful also become super greedy.

The above wolf hunting is often used to describe the horrors of addiction but it as well describes the horror of misconceptions. A society in which wealth and opportunity is polarised beyond a point is an unsafe society. If this is not corrected,  it will lead to an unacceptable alarming increase of sporadic mob violence. The spark point of each may be different, making it impossible to connect the dots and be able to see the larger picture.

Hyperpolarised societies are unstable, unsafe and short lived. Unfettered inheritance creates economic black holes that not only gobble up all competition but also entire culture and societies. The Buddhists have a belief that it is possible to have many rebirths in one life through the power of realisation. After all, enlightenment must also be a kind of realisation, so why not many enlightenments in the same life time.

The act of rationalising our inheritance policy is not about taxation or about taking from the rich to give to the poor. Neither it is about distributing wealth in society. 

Rationalising inheritance policy is about safety of life and property, it is about continuation of our culture and values. It is actually about creating much more wealth and enjoying its benefits. In societies that have rationalised inheritance, there are more wealth and more prosperous families than in societies that practice the policy of unfettered inheritance.

Our realisation and our surroundings have brought us to a unique point. Today we can lead the cause of rationalised inheritance policy, or forever, doom our future generations tossed and tormented, as they shall be, in the terrible wake of the aftermath of our inaction.

Rationalising inheritance policy is about safety of life and property, it is about continuation of our culture and values. It is actually about creating much more wealth and enjoying its benefits

Across the world

The World Development Report 2006 suggested levying of inheritance tax, and using income tax and property tax collections to fund what it calls “publicly provided, equity enhancing programmes”.In the developed world large inheritance is taxed very heavily some times to the tune of 40 per cent. In such countries a large reserve of wealth, is thus made available for the general good. The law is framed in such a manner, that it is an antidote to the evil of accumulation of wealth. Not surprisingly these nations have the best standard of living; the Scandinavian Countries are an example. On the other hand, Brazil has very easy inheritance (2 to 4% tax) and is  plagued by extreme polarisation as also experiences very frequent economic and financial scams.

In India, The Estate Duty Act 1953 under which some inheritance tax could be collected, was repealed in November 1985. Our nation has the largest proportion of young people both in numbers and as a percentage. The society must cater to and evolve a dream that gives hope to the people who will take the country forward. A change in the laws of inheritance will bring forth so much wealth for the general good that our youthful society shall be invigorated with so much hope  and energy that the foundation of a truly great nation would have been put in place.

In the developed world large inheritance is taxed very heavily some times to the tune of 40 per cent. In such countries a large reserve of wealth, is thus made available for the general good resulting in better standard of living 

Currently a change in the laws of inheritance is not a priority with any political party, though the party that puts this up first, will reap the maximum benefit. The task looks arduous but I have hope in the fact that nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.
 

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