However, in 2017, it is not clear exactly how decisive a role inheritance plays in the entrenchment of the hereditary elite.
Data from Britain suggest that people tend not to lose their parents before they reach the age of 50.
In rich countries the advantages that wealthy parents pass to their offspring begin with the sorting mechanism of marriage, in which elites increasingly pair up with elites.
They continue with the benefits of education, social capital and lavish gifts, not in the deeds to the ancestral pile.
Even if the link between inheritance-tax rates and inequality were clear, wealth can pay for a good tax lawyer.
In the century since Roosevelt, Sweden and other high-taxers discovered that if governments impose a steep enough duty, the rich will find ways to avoid it.
The trusts they create as a result can last even longer than the three generations it takes for family fortunes to go from clogs to clogs.
Armed with such arguments, some leap to the other extreme, proposing, as the American tax reform does, that there should be no inheritance tax at all.
Not only is it right to let people hand their private property to their children, they say, but also bequests are often the fruits of labour that has already been taxed.
And a large inheritance-tax bill is destructive, because it can cause the dismemberment of family firms and farms, and force the sale of ancestral homes.
Yet every tax is an intrusion by the state.
If avoiding double taxation were a requirement of good policy, then governments would need to abolish sales taxes, which are paid out of taxed income.
The risks that heirs will be forced to sell homes and firms can be mitigated by allowing them to pay the duties gradually, from cash-flow rather than by fire-sales.