Birthright: A Necessary Injustice


As I mentioned in my last IV revision article, I have a certain dilemma concerning my beliefs in Economics and equality. See this paragraph:


From the main text, April 2007:

I will also mention a subject that has immensely influenced the lives of billions of people in the past and present: the issue of capitalism versus communism (and levels in between.) Without exception, a system in which an authority takes the earnings of one person and gives it to another in the interest of forced equality is a system of theft. However, the collectivists have one legitimate complaint: it is unfair that wealth can be inherited. I previously said that it is wrong that the son of a queen is a prince while the son of a slave is a slave, since newborns have done nothing to merit such positions. Both children were born without consciousness of the external world, including whatever their ancestors have done right and wrong, so it is not reasonable that one is given the right to control a country while the other is bound to lifetime servitude. There is little difference between that setting and the ability to inherit wealth. This should have been the focus of the early communists. Their grievances should not have been directed towards those that obtain their means of production through work and ability, but only towards those that were simply given a greater means of production from birth.


As I said in the text, I disagree with the notion that anyone can deserve possessions or privileges by right of birth. I can’t imagine a reasonable concept of justice that would say otherwise. Applying this view to today’s world, nonsense systems such as inheriting social status or legacy considerations for college entry would disappear. There would be no more instances of some children starving to death while others never have to work a day in their lives. There would be less necessity for programs of reparations and affirmative action since everyone would have an equal start in life, regardless of historical circumstances.


Despite my objections to birthrights and firm convictions that they are unjust, I never actually said that they should be abolished. This is because there is simply no feasible way to do such a thing and the consequences may not even be beneficial. To illustrate, imagine that tomorrow some part—even a large portion—of the world decided that nobody gets any different rights than anyone else due to having different parents or other condition of birth. Multiple problems would arise from this. First, it would mean that citizenship doesn’t transfer from parents to children. This would create a legal nightmare. Everyone would have equal rights to any country. People could rush across borders to their desired destination. While this may be agreeable to some, it would certainly be problematic given the state of different laws and governments.


Also, abolishing birthrights could eliminate the practice of bequeathing one’s possessions. The alternative would be that everyone would deserve wealth equally from anyone that dies. The probable negative consequences of this are almost too many to list, but I’ll try anyway. 1) The logistics and efficiency of spreading the wealth would be extremely difficult. 2) It would invite corruption and fraud. 3) In politically unstable regions, dictators could seize a large amount of wealth to use for their own purposes. 4) Some areas may refuse to share wealth in return when its own members die. 5) People may have lots of kids just to obtain more shares, leading to exploitation, neglect, and a tragedy of the commons situation. 6) People could not invest in the future as they want. This would run counter to their desire to give preferential treatment to loved ones. Also, they would have no incentive to be productive after having a certain amount of wealth. 7) The whole system could be compromised by people giving money away while they’re alive. 8) There would still be inequality in the short-term. It’s not possible to retroactively shape the life of a sixteen-year-old sweatshop worker to give him an equal chance as another sixteen-year-old getting a high-quality education. 9) It assumes too much equality. When I say people are equal at birth, I mean that we equally are not responsible for anything that happened in the past and therefore can’t deserve anything from it. This does not imply that all people have the same potential or that spreading the wealth will have the best consequences.


In light of all these concerns, I cannot at this time recommend severing all ties between parents and children in matters relating to inherited wealth or citizenship. However, I do hope that people are mindful of what people deserve based on the accomplishments of their parents. I also hope that people will voluntarily invest in the future in a way that will be beneficial to a large number of people. It warms my heart to see the world’s richest people, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, choosing to donate billions to help billions instead of creating a perpetual family fortune.