Paul L. Caron

Monday, January 3, 2022

Haneman: Wealth, Privilege, Power, And Opportunity

Victoria J. Haneman (Creighton; Google Scholar), Wealth, Privilege, Power, and Opportunity (JOTWELL) (reviewing Allison Anna Tait (Richmond; Google Scholar), Inheriting Privilege, 106 Minn. L. Rev. __ (2022)):

Jotwell T&EOver one’s lifetime, advantage processes have a cumulative and potentially significant impact on inequality.  The notion of cumulative advantage, or behavior processes whereby wealth continues to fall into the hands of individuals based upon how much they have already accumulated, is a concept to which many labels are applied: preferential attachment; “the rich get richer”; the Matthew effect. Most law school courses on trusts and estates consider (to some extent) the privilege, power, and opportunity that flows from economic wealth. Conversely, inherited social and cultural capital create advantage processes that are arguably no less significant, driving behaviors that produce tacit economic benefits—the parent who pays for extra tutoring so that a child may outperform peers on an entrance exam; the professional able to develop an instant sense of rapport and connection with other successful professionals; the job candidate who comports herself with high cultural knowledge (au courant but appropriate attire, elegant table manners, knowledge of fine arts, broad functional vocabulary). Although the intergenerational impact of inherited cultural capital is fascinating and relevant as an advantage process, the implications have been largely overlooked by legal scholars contemplating inheritance frameworks. Inheriting Privilege by Allison Anna Tait considers the family trust as a mechanism for intergenerational transfer of privileged social standing and cultural hierarchies. ...

This type of scholarship serves as a departure point for important conversations that need to happen in the classroom about the benefits and disadvantages arising from the plasticity of the family trust, and the ability of the trust to preserve intergenerational wealth and privilege. Professor Tait has also made an extraordinarily important contribution in helping to frame a pivot: harnessing the advantages of the trust enjoyed by the wealthy to advance community-supported causes. An article is a noteworthy contribution when it leaves us with new thoughts and ideas of our own, and when we are inspired to incorporate those ideas into our classes.

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