Inheritance, inheritance law and inheritance taxes in cross-cultural perspective
In contrast to the 19th century inheritance of property is nowadays a rather neglected topic in the social sciences in general and in social anthropology in particular. That may be explained by the change of its function. But in tribal and peasant societies its function is still of subsistence kind. For cross-cultural comparison inheritance can be defined as a culturally shaped, non-reciprocal, diachronic exchange. Its investigation is difficult, because the ethnographic sources do usually not distinguish between inheritance behaviour and law of inheritance. On the basis of a new cross-cultural sample (Müller et al.1999) Goody's theory (1976), based on Murdock's Ethnographic Atlas (1967), could be confirmed: in societies in states, with high internal stratification and intensive agriculture inheritance is a relatively indepentant variable determing the institutions of kinship (especially marriage) according to the criterion of heterogeneous vs. homogenous inheritance. As soon as we take into consideration some more criterions of succession and inheritance division another model is favoured on the basis of the new ethnographic sample: Only those societies where land is "improved property” - whatever the determing reasons may be - the first of Goodys theses is right. For the purpose of a more differentiated investigation of "inheritance societies” further variables have to be coded. One of them, the variable of inheritance taxes, is illustrated in two ethnographic cases. In the concluding remarks the author compares his interpretation of these examples with legitimations given for inheritance taxes in our society by jurists; and he votes for Cicero's point of view - at least in cases where inheritance has to be legitimated - that these taxes have to be paid by those favoured materially by inheritance.