If I Were A Rich Man… ‘S Son?


Let’s say a gangster in the 1930’s made millions of dollars through the then illegal sale of alcohol. To maintain his criminal empire he personally committed several murders and ordered many more as well as being involved in the torture and violent intimidation of legitimate businessmen.

In due course this Gangster had a Son who was educated at the best private schools and universities (all paid for with his fathers illegal earnings) and who became a legitimate and honest lawyer.

On his father’s death the Son inherited tens of millions from his fathers criminal empire. The Son had been educated to be an honest and useful citizen and had no intention of continuing his fathers criminal enterprises, so as quickly and as legally as possible the Son moved his fathers assets into legitimate businesses. The Son had inherited much of his father’s ruthlessness, had been educated well and was a rich man who could afford the best financial advice; as a result during his lifetime he not only maintained his fathers fortune he also managed to grow it by investing legally and wisely.

In due course the Son married into a well-established, aristocratic (but penniless) family and had a son, the Grandson. The Grandson was born into a perfectly respectable and legitimate family – his father (the Son) was a successful and wealthy lawyer and on his mother’s side could trace an illustrious ancestry going back to the 1600’s. The Grandson had not even known his Grandfather (the Gangster) who had died violently a decade before the Grandson had even been born. Due to his father’s wealth the Grandson had access to the best schools and the best of everything. As he child he socialised with the children of ‘the great and the good’ of his nation, who remained his friends and colleagues into adulthood. When his father died the Grandson inherited the substantial family assets and investments – all of which were perfectly legal and above board. The Grandson also worked hard during his own lifetime and maintained and grew the now immense fortune by seeking the best financial advice. Thus at the time of his death the Grandson was an immensely wealthy aristocrat and a member of his nations ruling elite.

In turn his own privately educated son, the Great Grandson, would enter politics and use a small proportion of his massive inherited wealth to become a right-wing member of his nation’s government arguing that taxes on the rich are theft of their legitimate property and that welfare for the poor rewards laziness and that everyone should have to work for a living.

The question I would ask you to consider is whether the Great Grandson’s wealth and educational privilege is morally justified; i.e. Is the Grandson morally entitled to his wealth – and all the social, commercial and political privilege that comes with it? He is certainly legally entitled to it all, but is he morally entitled to any of it?

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5 responses to “If I Were A Rich Man… ‘S Son?

  1. “Is he morally entitled to it?” Sadly, the answer does depend upon whom you ask, & other variables…………….such as one’s income.

    • Well, while that’s clearly true it doesn’t answer the question. Individual wealth is justified on the basis of hard work and talent OR on the basis of inherited ownership. For example Right Wing Libertarians often describe tax as a tyrannical theft because governments take private property from private citizens at (ultimately) the point of a gun. But their theory is dependent upon the notion that private owners of private property legitimately own their property and to take it from them under threat of prison or bankruptcy is illegitimate – even by a democratically elected government.

      So the point I am making is that the moral legitimacy of private property itself is often questionable. Indeed, using my thought experiment I would argue that almost all wealth in the Western world is illegitimate because it ultimately rests on slavery and violent imperialism.

  2. Agreed. Now my mind is “playing tennis”, with opposing ideas going one after the other.
    Your comment “…..almost all wealth in the Western world is illegitimate because it ultimately rests on slavery and violent imperialism…”, reminds of one line in a Lovejoy episode (please excuse the reference). Himself, says something like, “Aren’t all art collections based upon something stolen or plundered from someone else, at some point in time?”. Here, the art collection = wealth. Which brings us right back to your question about the gangster’s Great Grandson………….

  3. I got one right!?!?! Having 3 daughters at the local University, these moments are truly rare. Seriously, I have found that, occasionally, lines from television, movies, plays, et cetera, can have some meaning in the real world. I have often wondered, as in the Lovejoy example, if the writer was taking a moment to express some personal opinion. Your last line can be used when discussing the “uber-wealthy”, government, & sadly, some religions.

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