ANY Chancellor or finance minister, from any party will often be accused of trickery in the setting of Budgets. The complexity may be of a higher order, but the classic stage magician’s techniques such as substitution are almost always to be found. And there’s generally a bit of showmanship too, such as the last-minute “reveal” designed to wow the audience and keep them talking after the show’s over.

The “National Living Wage” was an example of that theatrical flourish, but also showed hints of the other techniques. By keeping the eye on what’s being given with one hand, George Osborne hoped to distract us from what was being taken away with the other. By taking the words “living wage” and applying it to this new upper band of the minimum wage, only for those aged 25 and over, he hopes to substitute this new policy for the true living wage, which is already higher than his proposed rate and which will have to rise further to achieve a decent standard of living once his welfare cuts begin to bite.

However, there are issues of real substance. Genuine philosophical questions about how an economy ought to operate. For me, the clearest example was the proposal which had been most widely trailed in advance.

In raising the threshold for inheritance tax, to allow a £1 million estate to be passed on without any tax falling due, the Chancellor is saying something very clear about the economy. How he and I would phrase this would differ, I’m sure. I imagine that he’d argue that it’s wrong in principle that people shouldn’t be able to hand on the fruits of their labour to their children; wrong that wealth they have generally paid taxes on already should be taxed again. Coming from a background of privilege in which great wealth has been passed down the generations, perhaps it’s natural that he sees things in those terms.

From another perspective however, it’s important to ask why wealth should flow to the children of those who accumulate it. They didn’t earn it, so can have no greater claim of need than others. And there is surely no utility for society at large to see wealth continue to concentrate in the hands of a lucky few.

Only the most fanatical anti-state libertarian could reject the argument that taxes do need to be raised to pay for the things we need collectively. Some want a smaller state, while others want inclusive and comprehensive public services. But if any taxes are to be raised, surely there is a stronger case for taxing unearned wealth, than taxing people’s labour? That’s precisely what inheritance is, of course – the person who died may have earned the wealth (though not in every case) but to the recipient the windfall is entirely unearned.

There is surely a case for increasing inheritance tax, not reducing its scope. Most people wouldn’t want so punitive a system that families needlessly lose their homes, so a threshold based on a multiple of average house values makes some sense. But as for the very wealthy, surely the wider economy from which their wealth was derived has some claim.

The consequence of this fixation on the rights of the dead to have their pile stay in the hands of their family is that wealth continues to concentrate in fewer hands. This is by no means a new phenomenon, but one which it is important to question. As the work of economists such as Thomas Piketty has shown, the inequality of wealth in our society is an even bigger problem than the inequality of income. Given low rates of pay progression for most employees, asset wealth is becoming more successful at feathering the nests of those who are already comfortable.

Unless something gives, this will see inequality continue to rise. Some see this as morally unacceptable. Others see it as a drag on the economy. There’s a good case for saying that both statements are true.

Taxes on asset wealth have an important role to play; perhaps even more critical in creating a more equal society than taxes on high incomes.

As we debate how to design new taxes for Scotland, both nationally and at local council level, we may see this debate play out at Holyrood in a way that hasn’t happened before.

Do people have a “right” to hang on to what they have stashed away, or is there a wider common good at stake, and a need for the wealth of the economy to work all?

Retaining a significant element of property taxation, and improving the way it operates, is going to be an important goal.