The receipt of gifts has often been considered simple income. It should be obvious, however, that the recipient produced nothing in exchange for the money received; in fact, it is not an income from current production at all, but a transfer of ownership of accumulated capital. Any tax on the receipt of gifts, then, is a tax on capital. This is particularly true of inheritances, where the aggregation of capital is shifted to an heir, and the gift clearly does not come from current income. An inheritance tax, therefore, is a pure tax on capital. Its impact is particularly devastating because (a) large sums will be involved, since at some point within a few generations every piece of property must pass to heirs, and (b) the prospect of an inheritance tax destroys the incentive and the power to save and build up a family competence. The inheritance tax is perhaps the most devastating example of a pure tax on capital.
A tax on gifts and bequests has the further effect of penalizing charity and the preservation of family ties. It is ironic that some of those most ardent in advocating taxation of gifts and bequests are the first to assert that there would never be “enough” charity were the free market left to its own devices.
- Murray Rothbard, Power & Market