Robin Hood was an outlaw, a criminal, who robbed the rich to the noble end of giving to the poor. Redistribution, one would say nowadays. The peasants of medieval England had to shoulder a heavy burden. They had to pay taxes to three different entities: the king, whose wars and crusades they had to finance, the church , and their landlords, who they had to pay rent for land and machinery like mills and in the end deliver their bounty and their brides for the right of the first night. People were enserfed, or working poor, as one would say nowadays. With a taxation system as inhuman as this, Robin Hood was less robbing the rich as taking back what was stolen from the poor.
As the system of taxation improved slowly over the years, the redistributive transformation began. When Elizabethan England was enlightened the Poor Law was introduced, which obliged the gentry to help the less fortunate. In 1842 the first income tax (peace time tax) was installed, a flat rate at 3% on incomes above 150.- pound a year, by 1908 the old-age pension was introduced, funded by taxing the 12,000 richest Britons. By this time, the need for Robin Hood had vanished, and so had he. Taxes on wealth on the contrary stayed, grew in size and number and were used for other purposes than supporting the poor as well.
The idea that the richest should be taxed hardest was best exploited in the USA, one reason being that the USA tried to distance themselves from the unfair Old World Order. And right they did. The middle of the 20th century was a period of unprecedented and later unequaled growth. In the golden age of prosperity, as it is commonly called, the richest were taxed at 81% income tax. Thomas Picketty, the highly acclaimed economist writes: “Without taxes society has no common destiny, and collective action is impossible.” Taxes do not only distribute income fairly, but unite the people. Nobody can live without the state – rich people can buy cars, but cannot buy the streets. They can pay tuition fees but not the whole educational system. And so on.
Since then however income taxes have decreased – for the rich. The highest tax rate in the US is 39.6%, in the UK the richest pay 35%, while the poorest are taxed an incredible 37.5%. Prosperity is not to detected in either country. What has happened? What went wrong?
What happened was that a massive savings bubble burst, and a housing bubble, and a banking bubble, and a financial crisis took place. And while banks and bankers were bailed out money was squeezed out of the community, the middle class, the poor, everyone had to stand in for the bankers. For the banking sector, so it was argued, is vital for the wealth of a country. But how could a corresponding legislation – austerity as it is called – pass? How could parliaments vote for such an outrageous injustice like austerity for the poor, but not the rich? This is were Robin Hood comes back into the game.
The real problem, so we were told, is not the bankers and managers, their bonus system and fees, the low income tax which helps the rich the hoard their money and park it in over sea tax havens. The problem is that the welfare system was too expensive. They are sucking us dry, those lazy bastards, those unemployed, immigrant, disabled freeloaders, they rob us, us upright hardworking people! And in a strategically ingenious move the inherited millionairs, the Trumps and Starbucks of this world, the hard-partying pulled the hardworking bakers and tailors, plumbers, mechanics and secretaries on their side. “We hard working people are being robbed of our hard earned money!” They holler. “But we, I am your Robin Hood, I will get back to you what really belongs to you and what has been stolen from your children´s plates!” And so the poor hard working people were flattered that the glamorous inherited billionaires called them equals and would even stand up for them. Health, education, social security, energy, water, transport and housing are not vital to the country, it was decided, and were privatized. Prices for commodities sky rocketed. That was how austerity was introduced and the welfare system cut. Snip snip snip, gone. Now everyone was on their own and the race began. And what a race! As Thomas Piketty pointed out: “If you don´t start sitting on a pile of cash you will never ever close the gap to those who are, no matter how hard you work.” It´s the economy, stupid, and the rest is history.
The hard working people took other hard working people for their enemies for they were stealing their jobs, or so they were made believe. Redundancy. Unemployment. Crisis. Hate. Violence. And all the while the money is drained out of the state and safely parked in Luxemburg and the Isle of Wright.
Why are people so short-sighted, so easy to betray and mislead? Is it because they are exhausted from working enserfed in the capital system? Because they lost all hopes in governments that were supposed to protect them and look after them with their own tax money? Because they realized they were the fall guys as those politicians that had steered them safely through the prosperous second half of the 20th century had turned into greedy and corrupt gluttons? Or is it the general lack of solidarity in a generation pampered by history, greedy, lazy and ignorant to the fact that the past seventy years were an extraordinary time of peace, democracy and prosperity, an exception in a cruel world that will never come back? At least the next Robin Hood will fight for the poor again.
Please also read or listen to James Meek in the London Review of Books: