Wealthy Leftists and Taxes (2010 Nov)

by Barry A. Liebling

There is no shortage of wealthy leftists. The most affluent neighborhoods in the nation are brimming with progressives who consistently vote Democratic and support policies that include increasing the burden on rich taxpayers. Many of the most famous large companies have top executives and boards of directors who lean hard left and are cheerleaders for more government intervention and confiscation. Among the most leftist Democrats in Congress are numerous individuals with more than $100 million in personal assets.

A number of observers have wryly noted that while affluent leftists call for higher taxes they are not inclined to hand over more of their own money to the government voluntarily. Bruce Walker writes in American Thinker that well-to-do leftists attempt to reduce their own tax burden as much as anyone else. He points out that there have been several statewide “Tax Me More” programs where rich individuals had the option of kicking in extra amounts of cash if they felt their taxes were too low. Apparently, there were very few takers, and those who participated donated trivially small amounts.


Writing for The Wall Street Journal the economist Arthur Laffer chides Bill Gates Sr, successful attorney and father of the software titan. Gates the elder is calling for higher taxes on those making more than $200,000 in the State of Washington and has personally written to Arthur Laffer boasting that he is a fan of extremely progressive taxation. Dr Laffer concludes his essay by arguing that it is poor policy to increase taxes on the rich, but if Mr Gates and his son feel so strongly they should give the state a chunk of their own money and leave other taxpayers alone.


You might think these stories suggest that wealthy leftists are hypocritical – they want the government to have more of the affluents’ money, but they do not surrender their own wealth. It takes very little effort to make out a check if you have a lot of money, and you want a large chunk transferred to the government. What – besides a lack of sincerity – is preventing rich leftists from acting?

Bear in mind that people are diverse in their opinions, attitudes, and beliefs. If we could interview a large number of wealthy leftists we would confirm that they are not homogeneous – all thinking the same way. However, many of them have embraced a leftist, collectivist sense of life which explains their yearning for higher taxes while they fail to voluntarily follow through on their own.

Let’s pull back and consider an entirely different orientation – the philosophy of individualism. If you understand and appreciate individualism you know that it is the key to human flourishing. It is the doctrine that every person has natural rights including life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. Rationality is the way to decide how to act in any given situation – both in your private life and public life.

Individualism recognizes that the only way for humans to deal with one another ethically is by mutual consent. This means that your relationships with others should be guided by your free will and theirs. If someone wants to trade with you he has to make a persuasive case, and you are free to accept or reject the proposal. Similarly, you recognize that everyone else has the same rights. You may want someone to do something for you, but you might fail to convince him and the deal will not go through.

A sure sign that things have gone wrong is when someone attempts to initiate force. Coercion is a violation of individual rights. Anyone attempting to get what he wants by pointing a gun is outside the bounds of civilized behavior. While not all free actions are necessarily good, all coerced actions are tainted.

What does this have to do with rich leftists and taxes? Committed collectivists utterly reject the principle of mutual consent. They are ill at ease with the idea of a person doing whatever he wants, because a free person is likely to deviate from the collectivist’s desires. In the collectivist world-view the principle of mutual consent thwarts central planning.

Even as you, an advocate of individualism, recognize free actions as desirable and coerced behavior as unacceptable a collectivist has a completely inverted attitude. To a collectivist the ideal is to require people to “do the right thing” backed up by government force. Having the government mandate that the rich will pay more taxes is the way to go for a collectivist. Voluntarily giving money to the government is wishy-washy, unpredictable, and fails to capture the spirit of a powerful state flexing its muscles.

So wealthy leftists are not necessarily being hypocritical when they call for higher taxation yet do not donate money to the government. The collectivist end-game is not primarily about getting wealth into the hands of the state. Instead, they want to see the state’s hands directing everyone’s lives, including their own. Leftists are yearning for a world where citizens are pushed and pulled by an activist government that makes the important decisions.

There is no shortage of wealthy leftists. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that many of them will realize that their world-view is mistaken.

*** See other entries at AlertMindPublishing.com in “Monthly Columns.” ***

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