Is Robin Hood Right or Wrong?

In What the Social Classes Owe to Each Other, Sumner analyzes the relationships between each class and poses the question: Is it the duty of the upper class to appease the social burdens of the poor? Sumner hypothesizes that those of a lesser social position will always feel that people of a higher social position owe them. This is all due to the allusion that as one class wins (one group of people earn money and become wealthier) the other is doomed to lose at their expense (the poor stay poor). Sumner tramples this idea and goes on to say that not only is the plight of the impoverished, or rather, the underachievers not caused by injustice, but that in a free nation, no class is indebted to another. In a nation that believes the contrary, “poverty is the best policy” and this could never lead to a successful nation, therefore it is best left to the individual to determine their own social standing as opposed to “think[ing] they have a claim to the aid of other men”.

Today, the income tax is the single most important tax in the United States of America, making up forty seven percent of federal revenue. However, according to the Tax Policy Center, 45.3% of American households pay no federal individual income tax. In fact, on average, those in the bottom forty percent of the income spectrum end up getting paid money from the government. Meanwhile, those Americans in the top twenty percent pay out over eighty seven percent of the total income tax collected. Even more shocking, the top 0.1% alone pays around twenty percent of the total income tax. Just for reference, this means that one out of every five Americans pays, on average, $50,176 every year in income taxes alone while two out of five Americans are being paid by the government. The top twenty percent is not an exclusive tax bracket. It is estimated that 61 out of 100 American households reach the top twenty percent (making about $111,000 annually). Based off of these facts, is it fair to ask if Sumner was right to say that every individual should depend on his or herself instead of awaiting the charity of others? Bernie Sanders, and many other left wing party members, would say no.

Bernie Sanders makes the point that “we live in the richest country in the history of the world, but that reality means little because much of that wealth is controlled by a tiny handful of individuals”. He is not wrong. The number varies from study to study, but about 19-22.8% of total income is earned by only 1% of Americans. In stark contrast to this abundance of wealth, statistically, 20 out of 100 American households fall into poverty for at least two consecutive years.

In the end, we are forced to ask ourselves if this concept of taking from the rich to give to the poor is justifiable for the sake of morality or if it is simply a legal and modern form of theft.


High-income Americans pay most income taxes, but enough to be ‘fair’?

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3 Responses to Is Robin Hood Right or Wrong?

  1. This is definitely a controversial topic here in the United States, especially during this election. Sumner makes a lot of great points for why each class should be self reliant throughout “What the Social Classes Owe to Each Other”, but this idea has been construed many different ways. There really is no clear cut answer to the question Sumner poses. You left the reader with a great question to ponder, “if this concept of taking from the rich to give to the poor is justifiable for the sake of morality or if it is simply a legal and modern form of theft”.

  2. pinkfreud96 says:

    In light of your heated, accusatory comment on the “Gun Rights” blog post, I’d simply like to point out a number of factual deficiencies and omissions in your own post here.

    Firstly, you mention that 45.3% of American households pay no federal income tax, which is quite true. What you fail to mention–which is of great importance–is that these same households do actually pay taxes in various forms. If people are working jobs in a household, then they are assuredly paying state and/or local income taxes, as well as payroll taxes, which contribute to the social programs Medicare and Social Security. These programs, incidentally, are used by a great number of the households who are exempt from federal income taxes: namely, the elderly and working families with children, who together account for 74% of the nontaxable households not based exclusively on income. Another tax that all people pay, no matter their station in the United States, is the sales tax. The sales tax is a regressive tax–dissimilar to our progressive income tax–in that it subtracts a greater percentage from poor incomes than it does rich incomes because it is based on consumption. These taxes are all examples of the “fair share” that the poorest members of our society duly pay. This is not an issue of what the social classes owe one another, it is a matter of what they rightfully owe the government that collectively serves us all.

    See, I would actually be shocked (and possibly care) about the 0.1% paying 20% of the federal income tax, if they didn’t also accumulate the same amount of wealth as the bottom 90% of Americans put together. That’s 160,000 families in the top, compared to 144,000,000. Our levels of income and wealth inequality today are only challenged by those present during the Gilded Age.

    It’s incredible, really, to be discussing the taxation of the rich as though it’s some travesty–or “modern form of theft” as you put it. Prior to Ronald Reagan slicing it in half, the top income bracket for federal income tax was at a whopping 70%. Prior to John F. Kennedy, who lowered it in part to benefit his own family’s wealth, that top bracket was set at 90%. Guess what? There were still grossly, grotesquely, too-rich-for-my-grandchildren-to-spend-it-all people back then. Inventors still invented. Patents were still issued. Technology still advanced. Innovation still thrived. Businessmen still did business–and still made a profit doing it. Guess what else? We also had a bustling middle class in those years, whereas today an enormous segment of the country lives in a state not unlike that of a permanent underclass. Class mobility is stagnant in this country, and far more stagnant than most Americans erroneously believe.

    And while on the topic of this country’s permanent underclass and in reference to your assertion that “it is best left to the individual to determine their own social standing,” you are well aware that property taxes are used as the primary source of funding for public schools, correct? The most prevalent, effective resource to bettering oneself–a quality education–has a massive baked-in inequality simply due to the way it is funded. This means, in real terms, that your zip code determines as much about your educational future and subsequent success as does your merit and hard work invested into it. The achievement ceiling for children born into communities with ailing public schools (as a result of ailing, downtrodden neighborhoods) is indisputably lower than that of children born in affluent communities or those whose parents can afford to send them to private schools. How can one “pull oneself up by their bootstraps” if they have no straps to pull in the first place? Equal standing and equal opportunity simply do not exist in this country along lines of class, race, geography, or gender.

    Lastly, and this obviously merits pointing out to you, those who “think they have a claim to the aid of other men” are not those who take Social Security or disability or welfare payments, they are more applicably our hugest, most successive corporations and their top executives. Take Walmart, who in 2014, received $7.8 billion in tax-breaks and federal subsidies. The majority of this money ($6.2B) was public assistance utilized by Walmart employees, including food stamps and Medicaid. We, as in, the American taxpayers, are essentially paying out billions to one of the most profitable corporations on planet Earth, because Walmart doesn’t pay its workers enough to subsist on their own. They did raise their wages at the beginning of this year, although it doesn’t make up at all for the trampled principles of laissez faire capitalism.They don’t adhere to these principles in the least. These corporations do not compete in a “free market” and they sure as hell do not pay their fair share. They engorge themselves with corporate welfare–to the tune of $1.5 trillion a year–and often manage to receive tax returns for their already massively profitable institutions. TANF, food stamps, and EITC together cost about $160 billion annually. We spend on the hardest struggling Americans a mere tenth of what we spend on the corporate giants headed by multi-millionaires. U.S. corporations store a mind-boggling $2.1 trillion in profits offshore, in order to avoid paying taxes on them. This is not only immoral and unethical, but it is frankly un-American coming from those who have gained the most by virtue of America’s bountiful opportunity.

    You may not approve of Robin Hood, but I can’t comprehend turning a blind eye to the Sheriff of Nottingham and his cronies instead. The plundering of the poor by the rich is a far greater, wider, more endemic crime than the reverse. To assert otherwise in today’s system–with today’s facts and realities–is nothing short of delusion.


    • offthewals says:

      First, I really don’t have a strong opinion (or any opinion) about income tax. My post was a question, not an opinionated statement. I genuinely wanted to know what people thought about Sumner’s ideas compared to Bernie’s. You obviously failed to see that. If you thought I was arguing that Sumner was right, I can only assume that is because my paragraph on Sumner was longer. That paragraph was only longer because I had read the text “What the Social Classes Owe to Each Other” and the only thing I had from Bernie was his website. Second, I was only discussing income tax. That’s it. Nothing else. I didn’t take other taxes into account because that’s not what I was discussing. Third, if you were pissed about the “Gun Rights” blog post and you do entirely believe that all cops are racists pigs, then you should have commented on that one.

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