Category Archives: language

“Economic Patriotism” — oxymoron.

So the President has been making noises about a few businesses that have decided not to be “American” for tax purposes. Then Mark Cuban steps in and says he won’t do business with those that do that.

And all that’s fine. But both are suffering from a fundamental misunderstanding of how all this rally works and their resulting misplaced expectations.

The correct expectation would be that people act in their best interests. For example, if it costs more in taxes to do business here than anywhere else, then yes, we should expect some number to go elsewhere. Patriotism doesn’t enter into the equation.

That said, if enough people, like Cuban, were to decide that they won’t do business with them because of such a decision, that also has to factor into best interest–its unlikely to ever generate enough participation–boycotts are historically ineffective. But if it were, it still has nothing to do with patriotism.

So the only effective coercive measure is law, which is what the President is talking about. Usually only totalitarian governments have to use force to keep their population from leaving the borders. Taking such action would seem to me to reduce patriotic feeling generally. And if force must be employed, then the subjects of that force are still not behaving patriotically.

The entire concept of “economic patriotism,” then, is only a pleasant sounding oxymoron not unlike trying to equate social programs with charity.

Some say that none of this “self interest” should matter. Businesses should be about giving back through paying taxes… Taxes are not “giving back.” Giving back is public service and community involvement–things that most businesses already engage in. Those activities also have the virtue of being voluntary–voluntary being the defining element of “giving back.”

Taxes are not voluntary. They are taken by threat of violence. Some level of taxation is appropriate but every individual decides what that level is for themselves. When it gets higher than they like, they take some action, from ramping up charitable giving, seeking out missed deductions, to refusing promotions or raises, to cheating on their filing or not filing at all. Or even moving somewhere else with a lower tax rate.

Personally, moving to Texas was a great move for me on taxes. Having done so doesn’t make me less Oklahoman. Oklahoma remains the community to whom I “give back” the most by time and talent in the National Guard.

The thing is, legislation has one constant effect–it changes the locus of decision making from the person to the legislature. It is a substitution of judgement–lawmakers know better how things should be then, well, everybody else. Every one of these laws, collectively, reduces the liberty–the ability to make one’s own choices– of the population. In a country like our, predicated on maximum liberty–when that is the foundation of patriotic feeling–how can an abundance of coercive legislation fail to erode patriotic feeling?

The difference between the voluntary “giving back’ and the coerced taking by taxation. If I give $1000 to a guy on a street corner–that’s me being charitable and the act is attributable to me–he had nothing to do with it. If the guy on the street corner takes $1000 from me, that’s theft and the act is attributable to him–I had nothing to do with it. Even if he provides me something in return, say an assurance that no one else will steal from me, its still theft.

A hypothetical: What the Boy Said to the Lawyer

The boy stepped out on to the porch, unaware of the important looking man coming up the sidewalk.

“Come here, Shyster!” the boy called out.

It was uncertain whether the passerby or the large Black Lab reached the porch where the boy stood waiting first.

“See here child, what call have you to use such a term, such a deeply offensive term as “shyster” in the presence of an attorney?”

“Huh?” replied the boy.

“You called out, ‘Come here shyster!’ only moments ago, as I a lawyer, were walking by.  I can imagine, oh, easily, half a dozen hypotheticals to account for your action, and in all of them you must have meant to insult me.  So let’s have it.  What do you want, to summon me so rudely?”

“Gee mister,” answered the boy, “I didn’t even know you were out here.”

“Mm, hmm.  In at least 3 of those hypothetical scenarios, you were indeed unaware of my presence, and yet you still used the word ‘shyster.’  Even if not directed at me personally, you were still shouting a pejorative to the ether, in flagrant disregard of the sensibilities of any who might hear.  Thus offense was still your aim.”

“Well, I had to shout,” said the boy, “I didn’t know where my dog was.”

“What has your dog to do with it?” asked the lawyer, now fussily cleaning his spectacles with an immaculate white handkerchief.

The boy answered, “I was calling him.  The dog, his name is Shyster.”

The attorney was momentarily struck, receiving an answer he hadn’t anticipated was an unusual circumstance for him, and he began to chuckle.  “The dog’s name is Shyster?  Indeed.  I’d never have supposed….  Well, that’s…unusual, and probably…ill advised given how easily someone could misunderstand, why as I did misunderstand.  But, oh well, it’s not as though you’re trying to persuade voters or anything.  Good day, child, thank you for explaining.”  With that he straightened his tie, turned and resumed his journey.

The dog had been sitting patiently on the porch throughout the exchange,and as the boy turned and entered the house, he got up and dutifully followed in.

The boy’s father looked up from reading his newspaper.  “I hope you didn’t call the dog “boy” after that trouble last week, but it started to sound like someone was upset.  What went on out there?”

The boy related the events to his father’s chuckles.  When he’d finished he said to his son, “Well, it’s a good thing you didn’t tell him we named the cat, Pettifogger.”

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