Robin Hood, Willly Sutton and Tax Policy

Back in the 1950s, there was a concerted effort to keep schoolchildren from reading “Robin Hood,” because the story exalted a communist–Robin Hood, after all, took from the rich to give to the poor. (We are not the only generation to live with widespread paranoia.)

The notion that taxes are robbery has a long and inglorious history in this country. Rather than thinking about taxes as the dues we pay for civilization, taxes have been framed as extortion. Progressive taxation, especially, is characterized (in Ayn Rand fashion) as robbing the deserving, productive rich to feed the unproductive mobs of poor. This myth has endured despite the fact that there is no empirical evidence supporting the notion that lower taxes on the rich spur job creation, and in the face of the truly obscene paychecks going to the “titans of finance” whose credit default swaps and other financial chicanery produced nothing of value and threw the country into recession.

This morning, we awoke to see that the Congressional Republicans are proposing dramatic cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. As my husband observed, the GOP evidently has no problem taxing the poor. He’s right–taking medical care from the elderly, poor and disabled is simply a tax of another name.

The proponents of this “reverse Robin Hood” taxation are both heartless and stupid. They are heartless because they are attacking the most vulnerable in order to protect the pocketbooks of the most affluent, who are currently paying the lowest percentage of their incomes in taxes in more than 50 years. They are stupid because there is no way to balance the budget on the backs of those who have little or nothing.

When Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he replied “Because that’s where the money is.” Any genuine effort to reduce the deficit would take a lesson from Willie.


  1. Interestingly, the 1950s TV series of “Robin Hood” from the BBC was shown on an American TV network — the executive producer of that show was an American leftist refugee from McCarthyism!

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