Page:The Green Bag (1889–1914), Volume 25.pdf/276

This page needs to be proofread.


Our Grotesque Inheritance Laws a Morgan or a Rockefeller to hand down his vast accumulations and eco nomic power to possibly unworthy and irresponsible hands, any more than we longer permit political power to pass by devise or descent to the eldest sons of our Presidents and Governors? The present scheme stimulates the hoarding of wealth; the oppression of the public after all personal need is oversupplied, in order to leave millions behind to a few degenerate and spend thrift heirs; and it is indeed the incom petence, the gambling and debauchery of these degenerates of the second generation upon which we depend for a safety-valve against the evils which are the natural consequence of the too great accumulation of wealth, a thing particularly obnoxious in a democratic country. A great fortune is like a snowball at the top of a hill; it gathers momentum and grows as it rolls downward. It may well be that a reform of our in heritance laws will not by itself suffice to check the absorptive and centripetal whirl of wealth, which, with its interest and dividends and rents, constitutes an ever-increasing mortgage on the labor of present and future generations. It may be that we shall have to resort to an annihilative taxation of incomes, taking over all incomes above $100,000, for example, for the public treasury, and rewarding captains of industry by keeping an honor roll of those who have contributed most to

257

the resources of the state as a per manent monument to public service. These accumulations of industry would not be taken out of reproductive busi ness channels. They might be used, in part, as a public loan fund to counter act the undue concentration of credit, which ought to be a public matter, into a few powerful hands; or to secure representation for the national govern ment on the boards of directors of our great trusts so as to regulate them in part from within, as well as from with out; or to enable the government to become the proprietor of great public utilities, or to promote other objects of public usefulness instead of over-enrich ing the few with enormous fortunes. It may be that the taxation of the un earned increment of land values, the most unjust form of property, will have to play its part. (F. C. Howe, Privilege and Democracy; Mill, Pol. Econ. Bk. 2, Chap. II, Sec. 6.) But whatever other measures may be needed to promote a wide and just distribution of wealth, the state should no longer trust to the capriciousness or ill-judged generosity of testators, nor to the dis persive activities of degenerates and spendthrifts, but should exercise some intelligent direction over the disposition of decedents' estates, instead of allowing rich men to be a legislature to frame and promulgate rules of descent, fix the destiny of millions of property, and decide questions which concern only the lives of their survivors.

<<,jENoi judgment have expressed tome the opinion that were a vote to ."-l be taken on the proposition that all estates over $100,000 revert to the state upon the death of the owner, — the $100,000 being exempt — it would be carried two to one." — Vice-President Marshall.