Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER V: The Distribution of Inheritances in France - Socialistic Fallacies
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CHAPTER V: The Distribution of Inheritances in France - Yves Guyot, Socialistic Fallacies 
Socialistic Fallacies (London: Cope and Fenwick, 1910).
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The Distribution of Inheritances in France
Division of inheritances according to their importance—Analysis—Inherited shares compared with undivided inheritances—Decrease in the number of greater shares and increase in the number of shares less than 100,000 fr.—Number of inheritances in relation to number of deaths—Conclusions.
Since the Finance Law of February 25th, 1901, the details of inheritances after deduction of liabilities, are available. Those who introduced and carried this law include a number of men who, in the absence of adequate information with regard to the previously ascertained facts, imagined that this inventory would supply them with a formidable collectivist argument in favour of the expropriation of the land, of minerals and of all the means of production and exchange.
The registry places inheritances in thirteen graduated classes, according to the total amount of their net assets. The figures for 1907 are as follows:—1
The small estates of from 1 to 2,000 fr. are 223, 130 in number, i.e. 55 per cent., with net assets of 162 millions, i.e. rather less than 3 per cent. of the whole. The number of people with small inheritances is very large, while the total of their inherited property is restricted.
But 562 million francs have to be distributed among 114,695 persons in the series of estates ranging from 2,001 to 10,000 francs. This is a new series representing 28 per cent. of the number of inheritances, and 10 per cent. of the total net assets to be distributed. If one confine oneself to this series, this numerous class is a class of capitalists with a keen desire to increase their capital. Inheritances of between 10,001 and 50,000 francs are 47,967 in number, i.e. 11 per cent., representing 1,014 millions. If one includes the series between 50,000 and 100,000 francs, i.e. 9 per cent., one finds a total of 40 per cent. for the two series or 18 per cent. of the total.
If we take the large fortunes of from a million to 50 million francs, we find 534 estates, with a total of 1,231 millions, i.e. 22 per cent. of the total. There was no estate above 50 millions in 1907.
But these estates are divided, and if (after making allowance for charitable bequests) we compare the number of portions with the number of estates, we find:—
Except in the last series, the number of portions is smaller than the number of estates: the estates are divided and the heirs fall back one or two classes—a movement which is the converse of concentration. In the case of estates, however, of 250,000 francs and under the number of portions is higher than that of estates to be distributed:—
This follows from the same tendency. The division of large fortunes has driven the beneficiaries back into the lower series, so that they add to the number of portions into which the lesser estates are divided. This movement is the exact opposite to that which is alleged by Karl Marx and his followers. A comparison of the total assets of estates devolving by succession and of the amount of the portions confirms this explanation:—
In every instance the total of the portions is less than the total of the estates. The effect of division has been to cause the amount of capital to decline class by class down to the class of estates of from 100,001 to 200,000 francs. Below this class the total capital increases in each class concurrently with the number of portions:—
Of the total estate, the large fortunes of more than a million are 22 per cent., and the portions 11 per cent. The portions of less than 100,000 are 55 per cent., and those of between 100,000 francs and a million are 33 per cent. The amount of the large portions of more than a million is therefore 12 per cent. of the total.
In 1854 the number of estates was 438,905, the number of deaths being 859,000, i.e., 51.11 per cent. In 1874, the figures are 500,311 and 816,000 respectively, a percentage of 61.43; and in 1900, 534,000 and 854,000, a percentage of 62.60. Since this date, the mortality has always been less than 800,000. Since the law of February 25th, 1901, only one statement is made for each estate, so that no comparison is possible; nevertheless, the percentage of estates to deaths is 60.30. And it is necessary to take into account children, minors and persons who have made gifts inter vivos either by deed or by delivery.
In a speech delivered on June 14th, 1906, M. Jaurès said, “400,000 estates pass by hereditary succession, but the number of deaths is eight or nine hundred thousand annually.” His conclusion is that one half of those who die have no assets, since their death has not caused the distribution of an estate by hereditary succession. And there are those who, in order to escape the duty of registering their estate, conceal the amount which they could leave by gifts made by delivery inter vivos. Such gifts remain unknown, but an addition should be made to the total assets of the smaller estates, although no figure can be stated.
The registry of estates estimated the total voluntary transfers of property inter vivos at 1,038 million francs. A number of these are legacies by anticipation; they are therefore also to be added to the value of inherited estate in order to arrive at the figures of private property in France.
The addition of 200,000 deaths of minors and of 105,000 transfers inter vivos to the 400,000 inherited estates gives a total of 700,000. So far from onehalf of the persons dying leaving no estate, the number should be less than 8 per cent., and of these a number have succeeded in leaving estate without declaring it. This is of no consequence; in 1907 there are 401,000 estates and 830,000 deaths, but how many portions do these estates represent? The number of portions is 1,124,000, so that there are more beneficiaries than there are deaths, a fact which is not at all surprising.
According to the figures, there are 93 per cent. whose portions do not exceed 10,000 francs. Possibly if it were proposed to distribute among them the funds of the 323 proprietors of portions exceeding a million a number of them would accept the offer without troubling themselves about the legitimacy of such a division, or would find pretexts for justifying it. But if it were proposed to the same individuals that they should pay their portions of 200, 2,000, 5,000, or 10,000 francs respectively into the common exchequer they would exclaim against the robbery, and would defend their property with the most ferocious heroism. They are quite willing to receive, but unwilling to give. In order to ensure their paying taxes, they have to be deluded by “being made to pay without realising it.” This deep-seated feeling for individual property, extending itself day by day by reason of the increase of individual owners of property, is the reason why there is no future for collectivism, a word which merely serves to amuse one category of simpletons and to terrify another, playing the same parts as the words “Paradise” and “Hell.”
The conclusions which follow are therefore:—
Karl Marx put the question of the concentration of capital in the following way: Capital will become concentrated in a small number of hands: the old middle-classes, men of business and men of independent means, artisans and peasants will all decline into the proletariat (Communist Manifesto, Art. 18). This assertion would be correct if there were less individuals who take a share in property devolving by inheritance than there were in 1847, the date of Marx' Manifesto. The sub-division of transferable securities and the increase of small deposits in the savings banks justify us in saying without temerity that there are more individuals with a share in property than there were sixty years ago, and consequently that the facts contradict Marx' prophecies.
Estates which have paid duty more than once are only counted once, on the occasion of their first declaration.