By Shlomo Maital  

      The graphic is that of Scrat, the fictional saber-toothed squirrel from the Ice Age animated films, who somehow never manages to catch that elusive nut.  How much we are like him.  The nut is material happiness…and we never seem to have enough.  Scrat is hilarious – but, frankly, so are we.

       And there is another way we resemble Scrat and squirrels.  We perpetuate obscene wealth inequality, from generation to generation, by enabling billionaires to bequeath their wealth largely untaxed.  (Republicans managed to obliterate inheritance taxes by simply labelling them Death Tax —  who wants to pay a tax on death anyway?).  (See my previous blog, about Michael McCain).

      Apparently, so do squirrels. They pass on their wealth to a privileged kid. Really!

      Writing in Behavioral Ecology, 2021,  Smith, Natterson-Horowitz and Alfaro recount:  “North American red squirrels transfer stores of acorns to one individual, but not to others, imposing differential fitness outcomes on young squirrels that perpetuate across future generations.”[1]  

    The authors show how this behavior is duplicated across a wide range of birds, insects, mammals and fish.   Hyenas inherit social rank from their moms.  Clownfish bequeath high-quality anemones to a chosen few.  Some privileged wasps inherit nests, while others less privileged do not.

     Jacob Bronowski’s wonderful BBC series “The Ascent of Man” showed how humans have evolved beyond mammals.  But have we?  Is it morally just and socially efficacious, to bestow enormous privilege, solely because of your parent?  Is oligarchy truly the society we want and need?  Do we really want to sustain privileged classes?  The British tried it —  and look where it led them. 

    And are we really smarter than Scrat?  I kind of doubt it.

[1] Special thanks to science writer Elizabeth Preston, for drawing my attention to it.