Robin Hood, taxes, and communism


Last week I saw Robin Hood at the cinema. It is a truly, extraordinarily bad film: long, boring and yet, at times, preposterously silly. The low point came towards the end, when a bloodied, chainmailed Robin lept out of the English Channel, and gave a dramatic, slow motion roar. The whole audience burst out laughing. But it’s a real shame the film is so terrible, because it actually has quite a libertarian message. This is the not the Robin Hood conjured up by those Tobin tax advocates, who think confiscating bank profits will solve all the world’s problems. This Robin makes speeches about liberty, battles King John’s tax collectors, and even tries to force the King to sign an early version of Magna Carta. If the film hadn’t been so utterly charmless, I’d have been cheering him on.


This version of the Robin Hood story made me think of Jean Baptiste Colbert’s famous quote: “The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing”. King John, plainly, failed to master that art. Yet modern governments have become very good at it, taking up to half of what people earn without triggering a revolt, or even any serious resistance. The reason is that people today often pay their taxes without realizing it. Most is simply withheld by their employers, while much of the rest is passed on to the taxman by retailers. I suspect a lot more people would be advocating low taxes if they had to actually reach into their pockets and pay them directly. In this spirit, perhaps it is time for tax withholding to go.


On Friday, I saw a rather pathetic protest taking place on Palace Street, near Victoria. ‘No sanctions for North Korea’ was the general theme: one man stood holding a big sickle and hammer flag with ‘bolshevism’ written on it, while the other read a prepared speech through a loud-speaker. South Korean ‘conservatives’ are the real villains, apparently, and North Korea is a people’s paradise. At first I laughed, but on reflection it makes me quite angry. Too many people continue to see communism, which has killed a hundred million people in the last Century, as a nice idea that didn’t quite work out. But the truth is that communism is an evil, inhuman ideology that can only lead to tyranny. The sickle and hammer deserves to be as reviled as the swastika.