I grew up in a small lower-class suburban town (just outside of Los Angeles), in a stressful parenting environment, with a large number of siblings (from the same parents). Being the youngest, I endured taunts and ridicules by my older siblings... I had one brother, with schizophrenia, that magnified the hardship for all of us—especially when he would go crazy. I didn’t like to bring friends to my house. During lunch, in elementary school, I had a great deal of shame using my broken wooden “lunch pass” to get a free meal while the other kids paid cash with pleasure and satisfaction. I also felt shame at the doctors office, when the receptionist would call out “Got your Medi-Cal*, hun?” Hun, being short for “honey”—as if that made things more tolerable… I also experienced discomfort when my mother pulled out “food stamps” to purchase food at the grocery store—or when she didn't do the math right—and had to remove items in front of the annoyed clerk... I must admit, it was difficult for me to acknowledge that I was poor. I was told repeatedly that there was no shame or humiliation in it. To keep my chin up.
FLASH FORWARD—both of my parents have passed away. Clearly, no inheritance for any of us… No gifts, not even at crucial junctures in our lives (college graduation?). However, it got me thinking about parents that DO HAVE inheritance distributions… And about EQUALITY.
INHERITANCE is the practice of passing on property, titles, debts, rights and obligations upon the death of an individual. It has long played an important role in human societies. The rules of inheritance differ between societies and have changed over time.
INHERITANCE DISTRIBUTIONS SHARPEN OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE WAYS IN WHICH PEOPLE USE EQUALITY AS A DISTRIBUTIVE PRINCIPLE.
When pressed, parents STRONGLY BELIEVE in distributing their wealth “EQUALLY” to ALL THEIR CHILDREN. Ironically, the statistics show that the distribution of inherited wealth is very UNEQUAL the VAST MAJORITY of times. For example, a son takes over a thriving multi million-dollar business, yet the daughter is given the balance of the actual inheritance amounting to far less than the value of business that was initially given to the son. Perceptions of injustice have soured family relationships for generations... Parents are nothing more than a MIRROR of government. In unity and in division.
When disability benefits are unfairly denied to a mentally or physically disabled person, by a government, system, judge or institution, an uncomfortable fight for disability benefits breaks out. Similarly, when an unfair inheritance distribution between siblings arises, family members require judicial resolution as well.
The “duty of parents” related to inheritance distributions may include:
•Avoiding “envy” between siblings
•Achieving family harmony
•Genetic/name intergenerational continuity
•Protecting vulnerable/disabled siblings
In September 2012, according to the Institute for Policy Studies, "over 60 percent" of the Forbes richest 400 Americans "grew up in substantial privilege". In a blog post at the London School of Economics, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman show that, in America, the wealthiest 160,000 families own as much wealth as the poorest 145 million families, and that wealth is about 10 times as unequal as income.
The wealthiest 160,000 families need to adopt us—and offer us a small inheritance. My crazy thought for the day...
* ”Medi-Cal” is the State of California’s free health coverage for low-income children (it continues today, but following the 2007-08 U.S. financial crisis and the election of President Obama, it now includes adults).