There’s an old Pelican on my shelves, The Economics of Inheritance by Josiah Wedgwood, nicely musty and yellowed. It was first published in 1929; I have the revised 1939 edition.
The economics of inheritance,
It begins with a discussion of poverty and inequality, including this section.
“Material welfare has no significance except in its relations to men’s feelings and as one element in the psychological state called happiness. And the extent of a man’s happiness depends on the number and intensity of the desires which he is able to satisfy relative to he number and intensity of those which he is not able to satisfy. For this reason, certain religious teachers have striven to achieve happiness by eliminating all desires save those which they believed were capable of complete and permanent satisfaction. By contrast, in the search for material welfare, our modern civilisation under conditions of industrial progress is continually manufacturing new and previously unwanted sources of pleasure, so that old luxuries become new necessities, alike for those who can and cannot afford them. …
“`Though the amount of good and services enjoyed by the poor man in 1924 may be enormously greater than those enjoyed by his predecessor in 1824, the former’s poverty is probably little less tedious and unpleasant to him than an actually more grinding poverty was to the latter.”
There is a very thoughtful review of Julia Unwin’s book Why Fight Poverty? on 3am Magazine by the philosopher Richard Marshall (he reviews the whole Perspectives series). Lee Crawfurd also reviews Unwin’s book and takes issue with the idea of relative poverty, expressed above by Josiah Wedgwood.
Why Fight Poverty? (Perspectives)
Incidentally, I’m pleased to see OUP is bringing out a collection of Richard Marshall’s essays, Philosophy at 3:am very soon.
Philosophy at 3:AM: Questions and Answers with 25 Top Philosophers
As for Josiah Wedgwood, the second half of his book recommends inheritance tax (at 60% or so) and a gift tax, as well as progressive income tax. He wrote: “The ethical arguments in favour of claims to inherit… are extraordinarily weak.” Parents should support their children to give them a good start until they reach adulthood. He rejects the idea of any right to bequeath property. It’s a radical read in today’s climate – but that’s why we have a new gilded class. Like so many others, I’m keen to read Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century.
Capital in the Twenty-First Century