Fresh Takes

A parade of virtue signalling

It’s true that being born into a wealthy family wasn’t a choice you made. It’s also true that you did not necessarily inherit the ambition or the enterprising spirit of the parent or grandparent who created the wealth that pays for your exceptional living standards. However, you can look at these living standards and this legacy either as an advantage (that you have a responsibility to grow and to share wisely) or as a fluke that makes you uneasy.

Dear members of Resource Movement: Like many people of your generation, you want to save the planet and reduce inequality. You also think that taxing the rich is the way to do it, even though you could make a personal decision to pay more right now. There are two problems with this altruistic impulse that make it dysfunctional.

The first problem is ethical: Simply put, there is no such thing as virtuous behaviour imposed by force. After all, we wouldn’t say about a person constrained by force that he or she had committed a noble act. Therefore, wanting other people to be forced to squander their inheritance is particularly unseemly as it removes from them the opportunity to express their generosity by deciding for themselves how to use the means at their disposal. It’s one thing to want to hand over to the government the responsibility for deciding how to use one’s own resources; it’s another thing entirely to want to impose this abdication on others.

The second problem is economic: If you had taken the time to inform yourselves about the mechanisms involved in the preservation of resources or wealth creation, and studied the unintended consequences of wealth or inheritance taxes, you would know why they have been abolished in those countries that have tried them. The rich are particularly mobile and know how to surround themselves with the tools needed to shield themselves from this kind of tax. It’s always the middle class that ends up footing the bill for the spending carried out in the hopes of new tax revenue that never materializes. Also, the rich are the main providers of new jobs. Making them abandon or reduce investment in innovative companies does nothing to improve the lot of the middle and lower classes.

Moreover, do you realize how obscene your approach seems to those who work hard to achieve a level of wealth comparable to your own? Not born with the proverbial silver spoon, they know how much effort is involved. As a result, they respect the fruits of those efforts. Does one need to have a lot of money one didn’t earn in order to disparage it so flagrantly?

Not knowing what to do with your immense resources does not justify asking the government to expropriate your peers against their wishes. Moreover, the Income Tax Act contains a mechanism through which a taxpayer can donate his or her resources to the government. You are free to make use of it. Finally, it is illusory (and factually incorrect) to presume that the bulk of government expenditures are directed toward those in need. If this is really your top priority, there are bodies that make it their main purpose and that can suggest causes and philanthropic organizations in step with your values and personal aspirations. It’s the best way for your noble intentions to be effectively reflected in reality without being distorted.

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