The Governor of The Bank of England has again warned of the risk to our faltering small recovery and of the need to build more houses or the increasing likely hood of raising interest rates to dampen down house price inflation. Also in the news is the widening gap between the rich and the relatively poor.
Political attention is likely to focus on the house price boom because for politicians this is the easy option but this is allied to increasing inequality of not just wealth but also inequality of opportunity. The main cause of inequality is inheritance and if this were tackled the housing inflation problem would largely solve itself. Many of the last generation bought homes at more or less sensible prices and have seen their value increase many times over the general inflation rates, an increase that is not earned. When they perhaps down size or die they can pass on to their children large sums which their offspring can use to buy their own homes; homes that without this unearned windfall they could not otherwise contemplate. This of course helps to both maintain and fan the fires of house inflation.
In addition to passing on their inflated homes, the wealthy also can afford to give their children the best start in life with all the advantages that money can bring and bequeath their accumulated funds that enable the offspring to acquire even more and so the cycle continues. Apart from a few exceptional individuals the poor will remain poor and indeed, become even more deprived as wealth becomes more concentrated in the hands of a small minority. The result of this imbalance is that the nation as a whole will lose out on ideas, businesses and social benefits due to the suppression of the less well off who cannot make or even recognise the best use of their talents or from lack of capital to advance their ideas.
What we need, but is at present anyway, unlikely to be done, is a strong inheritance tax which some may say is even punitive. If someone builds up huge wealth there is no reason that he/she should not enjoy a rich lifestyle for as long as they live but equally there is no reason why their children should continue to enjoy that lifestyle simply by being born into that family. Money raised from this taxation could then be used to improve the conditions of the many and provide start up funding for brilliant new ideas and enterprises.
There would be many arguments against a firm inheritance tax and it’s implementation would be difficult but not impossible. How it could be done is what we pay politicians for.