Jacobin - December 31, 2020

In Charles Bukowski’s novel Hollywood, the protagonist Hank Chinaski reflects on the importance of home ownership to his father. “Look,” Henry Chinaski Sr once told him, “I’ll pay for one house and when I die you’ll get that house and then in your lifetime you’ll pay for a house when you die you’ll leave those houses to your son. That’ll make two houses. Then your son will…”

Hank thinks this is ridiculous. What if after accumulating ten houses in ten generations, the eleventh Chinaski gambles them all away? Better to live for the moment.

Anyone who cares about creating a society without landlords should have the opposite concern. What if the Chinaski family’s holdings do accumulate as planned?

In ways much more serious than petty real estate fortunes, inherited wealth has a massive effect in fueling economic inequality — and the problem is getting worse. As of the most recent data I could find, the amount of inherited wealth going from one generation to another each year is up 119 percent from 1989, even when inflation is taken into account. According to United Income founder Matt Fellowes, a “historically unprecedented” amount of money is going to be flowing from one generation to the next in the next few decades.

The right wing has done a good job of demonizing even modest efforts to tax these transfers, branding the tax on large estates as a ghoulish “death tax.” That’s obviously ridiculous. But how would a better society handle the inheritance issue?

Socialists want to take the means of production, distribution, and exchange away from their current owners and bring them under social ownership. Some blueprints for what such a society might look like involve state ownership of nearly everything, or even eliminate money as a medium of exchange. ...
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