Thursday, November 15, 2012
Contemporary policy discussions of taxes in general, and of the estate tax in particular, are often dominated by arguments that start from libertarian premises. However, these libertarian views are rarely fully unpacked, and, as a result, the conclusions of these arguments often extend beyond what can be justified by those libertarian premises. With regard to the estate tax, many libertarians argue that government interference with the free transfer of assets after death is an immoral violation of the property rights of the deceased. In this Article, I work through the libertarian arguments of Robert Nozick in his seminal work, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, with special attention to his views of property and inheritance rights. By demonstrating that libertarianism cannot justify property rights that extend beyond death, I show that, in fact, libertarianism is entirely consistent with a robust estate tax. While this does not mean that the libertarian views of property rights require an estate tax, those views do not, on moral grounds, preclude the imposition of the tax.