A society of heirs

There is no more taboo subject in France. It’s hard to imagine a proposal as unpopular as inheritance tax. Eight out of ten French people are even in favor of lowering it, according to an OpinionWay poll for “Les Echos”. As for the abolition of inheritance, it appears to be a forbidden debate. Even on the left, one of the ten measures of the “Communist Manifesto” would be thrown into oblivion. However, in 2022, the heritage is not far from regaining the importance it had at the time of Father Goriot. The new Rastignacs can rest easy: since the 1970s, the weight of heritage transmissions has increased dramatically, to approach the levels observed in the 19th century.and century. The stock of heritage in the national income has increased from 300% in 1970 to 600% in 2020. The share of inheritance in wealth now represents 60% of the latter, against 35% at the beginning of the 1970s. was accompanied by a greater concentration in the distribution of wealth: the share of the 1% in this total wealth thus increased from 15% to 25% between 1985 and 2015.

The new Rastignacs can rest easy: since the 1970s, the weight of heritage transmissions has increased dramatically, to approach the levels observed in the 19th century.and centuries.

France is in the process of once again becoming a “society of heirs”, even warned last December the note from the Economic Analysis Council (CAE), which one cannot suspect of wanting to replay the night of August 4th. The conclusions of the latest studies on the subject may be final, but nothing helps, governments move on and continue to look elsewhere, while wealth inequalities are increasing faster than income inequalities, to which they are added. Worse, evoke the beginning of a desire to reform the tax on inheritance transfers, and now a wind of panic will blow in the public debate. These days, thanks to the presidential campaign, the timid calls to review inheritance tax have had the effect of an earthquake, the right going so far as to castigate a “tax on death”.

That the right is bent on saving privileges, nothing surprising. But it relies on the strong argument of the indisputable “unpopularity” of inheritance tax. Inheritance may well be the primary cause of inequality in France, but a majority – even the most modest – oppose removing it, or imposing it more. This contradiction is the fruit of the dominant discourse which tends to pass off the heritage as the fruit of a lifetime’s work, and cynically summons “the little family home”, playing on the social representation of this intergenerational transmission, or the image of the thin booklet A, emptied by the State. The subject is obviously not there. First, because a third of French people inherit nothing. On the other hand, 0.1% of the richest will receive 180 times the median inheritance in France (70,000 euros).

In the register of sinister manipulations, the National Rally obtains the gold medal, which justifies in its program new exemptions in the name… of “social justice”. This touches on the heart of the imposture of the far right. However, on paper the issue is quite simple. As in “Monopoly”, it is better to start your turn by inheriting a hotel on rue de la Paix than by being a tenant at porte de la Villette. But inheritance brings into play a more complex, more insidious equation, where everyone’s legitimate aspiration to protect their loved ones in a period of economic anguish and anxiety-provoking climate, the assurance “of having a roof over their head clashes with the ambition of a fairer society. This is all the perversity of capitalism.

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A society of heirs