Robert Wood Johnson II died in 1968. He left the bulk of his $400,000,000 estate to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Since this foundation now helps fund Tobacco Control, the following article seemed relevant:
It’s a common-sense notion that society’s wealth shouldn’t be governed by ghosts. “Our Creator made the earth for the use of the living and not of the dead,” wrote Thomas Jefferson. (Also: “One generation of men cannot foreclose or burthen its use to another.”) But in our new age of inequality—the top 10 percent now own nearly 80 percent of all wealth—old concerns about wealth and inheritance are coming back from the dead.
Americans have, historically, had a simple approach to dealing with wealth after its holder dies: You can do whatever you want with your property, but not for very long. Rich people can disinherit children. They can put extreme conditions on how their successors can inherit, like requiring marriage. They can build monuments to themselves or give everything to their pets. But they can only do it so long. Eventually, time catches up with them and their estates dissolve.
Or at least that’s how it used to be. Remember that the dead can’t actually do any of this themselves because they are, in fact, dead. Instead, a trust is empowered to carry out the last wishes of the deceased. A trust is simply a legal entity that contains property; people tell a trust what they want to do, and the trust acts like a ghost, enforcing their wishes beyond the grave. But there’s a safeguard built in to prevent abuses: Trusts have been governed by something called the rule against perpetuities, which places a roughly 100-year limit on how long they can exist. This prevents people with no connection to the living world from putting restrictions on our country’s wealth.
In recent years, the safeguard of time has been eroded. As the tax expert Ray D. Madoff documents in her 2010 book Immortality and the Law: The Rising Power of the American Dead, we are experiencing a rapid rise of dynasty trusts, which massively expand the power of the dead over the wealth of the living.
To take advantage of a change made to the tax code in the 1980s, states started to radically diminish or outright remove the rule against perpetuities in the 1990s. This resulted in a race to the bottom, with states competing to see which could most effectively restructure their laws to benefit the rich. By 2003, states weakening these rules received an estimated $100 billion in additional trust business. Now, 28 states allow trusts to live indefinitely, or nearly so, creating what are called perpetual dynasty trusts.
I learned today that the International Space Station should be visible in Britain during August. So I got hold of its state vectors, and ran it on my orbital simulation model. The video below is the 3D view of my location in Herefordshire from the ISS as it passes overhead at about 00:35 GMT (1:35 BST) on 4 Aug 2015. I’m hoping to be able to actually see it tonight out my window as it comes in from the west (if the cloud clears).
P.S. The sky was clear at the appointed time, and I could see lots of stars. But I didn’t see any space station. Perhaps it was too faint, or in the Earth’s shadow.