Which Is Worse?

by Dave Schuler on May 2, 2014

Scott Sumner has an interesting post about tax reform that’s worthy of your attention. The post also could serve as a sort of Socratic dialogue on which is worse, avarice or gluttony? Sadly, he combines the two but, as any good scholar of medieval philosophy could tell you, they’re different.

I think they’re both bad but that’s a subject for another post.

I did learn something that I did not know from the post. He quotes The Economist:

TO UNDERSTAND one of the gulfs separating the Anglo-Saxon world from continental Europe, consider Warren Buffett’s children. Omaha’s sage investor long ago said he would leave most of his fortune to charity, with more modest sums to his offspring. For Mr Buffett, leaving vast wealth to his children would be “anti-social” in a society that “aspires to be a meritocracy.”

In 26 out of 27 European Union countries, Mr Buffett’s plans would not just be shocking, but illegal. The exception is Britain, or rather England and Wales (Scotland has its own, centuries-old legal system, with a strong continental flavour). In continental Europe a big part of an estate (often around half) is reserved for the surviving children of the deceased and must be equally divided between them.

I wonder how many people will recognize the implications of that? Americans and Continental Europeans have very different assumptions about wealth, assumptions they themselves may not recognize, and, consequently, we need to consider European pronouncements on wealth as seen through that filter.

What’s true in France may not be true here and vice versa.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

PD Shaw May 2, 2014 at 9:14 am

I recently saw aCulture Map based upon the World Values Survey. On measures of valuing (x) survival values or self-expression values, and (y) traditional values or secular-rational values, the English-speaking world is markedly different from Europe. I suspect the Continental system finds such Buffet’s idiosyncratic desires to not be that valuable, and that it is more rational to develop a uniform system that applies the same to all.

The main reason for the chart though was to compare “Orthodox” countries with the West.

(The World Value Survey website appears to be down for updating, so the link is to a clip of the map on someone’s blog)

Dave Schuler May 2, 2014 at 9:21 am

That map does highlight something I’ve mentioned here from time to time, PD: it’s pretty ironic for Americans to claim descent from ancient Rome when the Russians claim the same thing. I don’t think they can both be right.

I also think that if we want to see what classical antiquity was really like the best approximation today is probably the traditional Muslim world. Seclusion of women, slavery, autocratic corrupt and debauched elites on the one hand, impoverished peasants on the other.

PD Shaw May 2, 2014 at 9:51 am

My daughter took to Roman history in sixth grade, so we started watching some of the movies about ancient Rome, like Sparticus, Ben-Hur, Gladiator. At some point I asked how she could still like Rome when they are usually the bad guy in the movies, and she said that’s not the part of Rome she likes — she likes the Senate and the aquifers and the roads. She likes the Roman Republic and has a pretty specific knowledge set about how the dictatorship was supposed to work and how it actually worked.

What one likes about Rome is an inkblot test. Do the Russians obsess about the collapse of the Roman Republic, like the American Founders did?

Dave Schuler May 2, 2014 at 9:59 am

I think the Russians believe that Rome itself was a village on the banks of the Tiber after it was sacked by the Visigoths and the real Rome was in Byzantium. They don’t much care about the Roman Republic. They think of the empire.

As far as your daughter’s interest in Rome goes, I would suggest that you (plural) might consider what we actually know about Rome and how and why we know it. There aren’t a lot of extant manuscripts from the classical period. Basically, we know what the Church wants us to know.

... May 2, 2014 at 10:22 am

Siblings can be very different, so there’s no reason mythical ‘national’ descendants of Rome wouldn’t be.

Jimbino May 2, 2014 at 1:59 pm

In the founding of Rome, the Romans famously kidnaped young women and made them their wives, like what’s happening in Nigeria now. It’s called “Rape of the Sabines.”

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