The Disturbing Implications of “Economic Patriotism”

What does it mean to be “economically patriotic” – or economically “unpatriotic”?

President Barack Obama says a loophole that lets companies dodge U.S. taxes by moving their headquarters overseas is unpatriotic.

Obama is denouncing “tax inversions” in his weekly radio and Internet address. He says companies are essentially renouncing their citizenship to avoid paying their fair share. [Source: 7/26/14]

President Obama loudly questioned the patriotism of inverted companies, calling them “corporate deserters” who are abandoning their country “just to get out of paying their fair share of taxes. . . . My attitude is, I don’t care if it’s legal. It’s wrong.” [Source: 8/6/14]

Let’s back up and first define patriotism. Patriotism refers to loyalty and regard to a particular country because of the values, principles and actions that country represents and upholds.

Often, patriotism refers to pleasure in one’s membership or belonging to some kind of group, based less on character traits/achievement than on racial, nationalistic or political affiliations. It’s less about individual self-determination than about subservience of the individual to some kind of collective, or a sense of deliberately losing oneself (thought by some to be a good thing.)

If one feels patriotic about a free country, it’s because one values the principles of freedom, individual rights and personal autonomy which that country embodies, articulates and practices. A patriotic American, in the best sense of the term, feels, “I love this country because it protects my ability to live as I want to live.”

Similarly, if one felt patriotic about Nazi Germany, it was because of loyalty to Hitler and the racist, socialist-collectivist ideas that he represented. Ditto for any other government throughout history.

“Patriotism,” like any emotion, is not automatically rational or irrational. The presence of the emotion tells you nothing about the value judgments, attitudes, beliefs and viewpoints giving rise to that emotion of patriotism.

When Obama makes these statements, he’s implying that patriotism is automatically good, at least if in compliance with his values and beliefs.

No sane business owner(s) would ever feel unpatriotic towards an economically free country. The only thing that could lead to disloyalty or lack of “economic patriotism” would be the failure of a country’s government to ensure justice, private property and equal treatment under the law. If businesses are pulling away from America, then maybe that’s what our political leaders should be looking at, and addressing.

For the leader of a government to talk about the alleged patriotic duty of a business to abide by the ideology and philosophical viewpoints of that government’s leader is to mix business and government together in a way totally, explicitly at odds with a free society.

In a free society, a business is not permitted to engage in force or fraud. These are not matters of “economic patriotism.” They’re matters of basic individual rights, i.e. the right to be protected from the imposition of force or fraud by another.

However, Obama is offering a moral opinion here. “I don’t care if it’s legal. It’s wrong.” And he obviously intends to make what he considers wrong illegal.

He’s stating his view that companies have no right to cross over borders and do business in territory more friendly to their interests as businesses—at least not when it offends the interests, attitudes or desires of a government headed by him.

The implication is clear. Businesses work not for themselves, but for the nation. How is this any different, in principle, from what Communists, Nazis and any other statist or fascist governments throughout history have claimed?

Of course, we still have more economic freedom than those countries did. But how long can that last when we put people into office who speak, think and act on the same principles as a Hitler or a Stalin? Oozing out from Obama’s remarks are the implications: “You belong to us; not to yourself.” It’s a variation on the theme of, “You didn’t build that.” Increasingly, our government officials are preparing us for a world where most of us don’t believe we’re sovereign over our own lives, much less our business enterprises. The question remains: Will we surrender this to them?

Some of the rationalization for Obama’s comments (at least by his apologists) is, “Everybody has to follow the same law.” But the corporate and progressive income tax rates don’t treat everyone the same. They explicitly single out those who do better and punish them—via progressive taxes—for the fact of having done better. The higher your income, the higher the percentage of your taxes. Plus, businesses get all kinds of taxes most others are not subject to: separate corporate taxes, and capital gains taxes, to name just two examples.

We constantly hear about the “benefits” and “freebies” corporations get; but (leaving aside subsidies, which are always wrong) they’re only getting back some of what was taken from them (selectively at that), things the government had no right to wrestle from them in the first place.

Adding insult to injury, the government regulates all manner of private business decisions having nothing to do with force or fraud, but then (as everyone concedes) plays favorites with businesses they like more, and who contribute more to their campaigns for continued power.

Is it any wonder businesses want to escape some of this, when they can? It’s not lack of economic patriotism. It’s relief.

You can’t rationalize any of this by saying, “Everyone has to play by the same rules.” Whether everybody is equally under the same yoke, or whether some are more strenuously harnessed than others, doesn’t change the principle at stake: Nobody should be yoked or harnessed in the first place.

Governments properly exist to restrain and punish violent offenders and frauds; that’s it. Government does not exist to restrain, morally denounce or ultimately enslave those the rulers happen to dislike. Human beings throughout the ages have “been there, done that;” and America was supposed to be different.

There is no “public good” which Obama—or any other politician, of any party—gets to define and impose on some at the expense of others. This is not equality, and this is not justice.

If people want more economic patriotism, then governments must provide more economic freedom. Nothing less will generate it.


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