This is the first sentence of the abstract for a paper by some guy at Harvard: “Historically, it is safe to say that very few laws did as much to stoke inequality as laws touching descents and hereditary transmissions.”
What exactly does he mean when he refers to “laws touching descents and hereditary transmissions?” Well, he gives us a hint in the last sentence of the abstract: “Hence, inheritance taxation is most likely necessary from a classical liberal point of view as an instrument of social mobility to counter notable problems of social immobility, say hereditary vocational stratification, which a system of private property rights creates.”
This is what I think he means: modern law allows you to leave your lifetime accumulation of assets to your children, as opposed to when no one but the King could own anything, so commoners couldn’t leave anything to their children (i.e. before the system of private property rights was created). Therefore, it is necessary for the government to take (at least some of) the assets you would otherwise leave to your children, to prevent your children from having an economic advantage over others whose parents didn’t leave them anything.
Via Taxprof Blog.
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