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The value of inheritance

There are people who think that inheritance tax is a good thing. After all, you've done nothing to earn what you inherited so why shouldn't it be taken away from you. Tom Utley in today's print edition of the Daily Mail draws the analogy between inheriting a nationality and inheriting an Old Master. Most of us are British because we inherited our nationality from our parents. We did nothing to deserve it. Similarly, he notes, the vast bulk of the Old Masters in Britain have been handed down from generation to generation and all but three of those that remain are in the same family.

Like many others I inherited my British nationality. As far as I can trace my family history back, all my ancestors were British. When I first moved to America 30 years ago, there was a terrific advantage to having that inheritance and being British. It never crossed anyone’s mind that you might have smuggled a bomb on to a plane. It was assumed, rightly usually, that you would do what you said you would do, and you would get the job done. That was the inheritance I received by being born British, and that is the inheritance I am concerned to preserve.

I asked at an American airport recently why it was necessary to search me, a white middle-aged Englishman, for bombs. The reply was, “Richard Reid the shoe bomber was British, Sir.” As this and other events make clear, the value of my inheritance has been diminished.

Utley writes, “Another thing about inheritance is that it is no mere chance that has made Britain richer than countries such as Somalia and Bangladesh. Part of the secret is that we have had a remarkably stable and peaceful system of government for many centuries which has allowed wealth to pass down and grow from generation to generation.” One might also add, though Utley does not, that we had a Christian basis to our society which contributed to the growth of freedom and well-being.

It seems to me that if you want to preserve something valuable for future generations you should be able to hand it on to your descendants. This applies whether we are referring to paintings or nationalities. They both need to be cherished, valued and passed on undiminished to future generations.