Of Revenue and Robin Hood (and Reagan and Rand)

Ah, springtime: when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love, and a middle-aged man’s to thoughts of taxes.

I was recently reading a tax advice column for professors, in which the advisor first professed his own satisfaction at knowing that the taxes he paid went to those less fortunate. At some point, of course, he trotted out the inevitable Robin Hood reference. Somehow, poor Robin has become the patron saint of socialism, enlisted in liturgy and iconography to establish the justice of wealth redistribution. I still have a paperback I bought in the German Democratic Republic: Robin Hood, the Avenger of Sherwood. Even in Communist countries, he was the believable action hero to win the hearts and minds of youth to the cause (after all, Lenin was too short and Marx too hirsute to have been credible action heroes—and most importantly, they were too academic).

This patron saint, however, turns out to have been something of a heretic. A heretic, moreover, who proves that socialists have a poor grasp of either politics, history, or literacy, but a firm one on agitprop. Everyone remembers the tagline: steal from the rich and give to the poor. Those who have bothered to read the legends, however, or who bother to think about the politics or history of the time, know that the implications socialists like to draw from this are simply untrue.

Like the best lies, it begins with a grain of truth. The people from whom Robin took money were wealthy. And the people to whom he gave it were not. What is missing from the picture, however, is how the wealthy got the money. They were not capitalists, who increased productivity so that there was more for everyone. They were aristocrats in the time of aristocracy—they were the government. And the money Robin reclaimed had been extracted in the form of taxes. That’s right: Robin stole from the government and gave to the taxpayer.

So Robin Hood was a tea partier before tea parties were cool, and one who did better than destroy a shipment of tea. He actually returned the money to those whose lives the tax burden was crushing to a fine powder. Robin Hood was…Ronald Reagan?

And Robin Hood was a visionary and rebel. He called those who would be free of the depredations of a paternalist government to form a society of their own, one outside of the boundaries of normal society, hidden to protect it, and based on rugged individualism. Robin Hood was…John Galt?

Robin Hood is a hero of the American Revolution, or should be, and not a hero of the Russian one. It is time we reclaimed this man not afraid to live outside the color of the law when the law became oppressive, who stood up through voluntary organization for self-determination, the right to keep and bear arms, and against extortionate tax rates as the libertarian hero he was, is, and always shall be.

There–you can have the soapbox back now.