Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

Rich shouldn’t have to pay taxes, Santorum backer says

By Chrystia Freeland
February 17, 2012

In an age of rising income inequality, one of the big questions is what impact the growing gap will have on democracy. Francis Fukuyama worries about it in this month’s Foreign Affairs, in an essay that bears the worrying subtitle, “Can Liberal Democracy Survive the Decline of the Middle Class?” President Barack Obama, as he signaled again with his budget this week, is putting the issue at the center of his re-election campaign.

The powerful connection between money and politics is also on vivid display in the roller-coaster Republican race, where Rick Santorum owes his surge in part to the generosity of the Wyoming multimillionaire Foster Friess, whose “super PAC” helped keep Santorum’s candidacy alive by running TV ads on his behalf.

I interviewed Friess a few days ago, before he made his headline-grabbing remark about women using aspirin as contraceptives in his earlier days (“The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”) He’s a folksy, white-haired, septuagenarian charmer whose Web site features a photo of him astride a horse and “Foster’s Campfire Blog.” He also has unequivocal views about the proper relationships among the wealthy, the state and politics.

Friess’s most striking observation was about the value of what he called “self-taxation,” as opposed to taxes levied by the state.

“People don’t realize how wealthy people self-tax,” Friess told me when I asked whether, given the country’s economic troubles, it was fair to ask the rich to pay a bigger share. “You know, there’s a fellow who was the CEO of Target. In Phoenix, he’s created a museum of music. He put in around $200 million of his own money. I have another friend who gave $400 million to a health facility in Nebraska or South Dakota, or someplace like that. You look at Bill Gates, just gave $750 million, I think, to fight AIDS.”

Friess’s point is that the common good is better served when the wealthy “self-tax” by supporting charities of their own selection, rather than paying taxes to finance government spending.

“I think we should get rid of taxes as much as we can,” Friess told me. “Because you get to decide how you spend your money, rather than the government. I mean, if you have a certain cause, an art museum or a symphony, and you want to support it, it would be nice if you had the choice to support it. Where we’re headed, you’ll be taxed, your money taken away, and the government will support it.

“It’s a question: Do you believe that the government should be taking your money and spending it for you, or do you want to spend it for you?” Friess explained.

As for the idea that an economic age like our own, which is conducive to creating vast fortunes, should also be one in which taxes are high, Friess considers that absurd. “If you look at what Steve Jobs has done for us, what Bill Gates has done for society, the government ought to pay them. Why do they collect money from Gates and Jobs for what they’ve contributed? It’s ridiculous.”

Indeed, Friess is unconvinced by the entire 99 percent paradigm. In his view, it is the Americans at the bottom of income distribution who are getting the free ride.

“I’m just so amazed at this concept that President Obama says, ‘I’m not going to let half the American people, that pay no taxes, bear the unfair burden of the other half, who are not paying their fair share.’ It’s pretty comical, when you think about it,” he said. “About 46 percent of the American public pay no income taxes.”

By contrast, Friess believes we all rely on the 1 percent and should respect them accordingly.

“It’s that top 1 percent that probably contributes more to making the world a better place than the 99 percent. I’ve never seen any poor people do what Bill Gates has done. I’ve never seen poor people hire many people,” he said. “So I think we ought to honor and uplift the 1 percent, the ones who have created value.”

Given these views, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that Friess’s main concern about the role of money in U.S. politics is that it is too hard for the wealthy to directly support their preferred candidates.

“I do dislike the system now, because when I give money to the Red, White and Blue Fund” — the super PAC that has been backing Santorum’s candidacy — “I have to be very, very careful not coordinating with the campaign. I have to be careful what I say. I think the best system would be if we all had unlimited free speech and spending our money the way we want, but give directly to the candidates,” he said. “There’s just too much jumping through too many hoops. And I’m not happy with that process.”

Having said that, Friess added, “the role of money is overplayed.” Meg Whitman’s millions, he pointed out, had been insufficient to win the governor’s seat in California. Santorum, he said, owed his ascent more to his tour of 381 towns in Iowa in a Dodge Ram truck than to Friess’s money.

Moreover, Friess argued that the 1 percent was not exclusively bankrolling the right. “If money was able to make things happen, I think there’d be more Republicans, if they’re theoretically the people with money. But I think the Democrats have more billionaires than we do.”

Even so, Friess couldn’t resist bragging a little about how effective his own investment in the Republican race had been so far. “Sheldon put up, I’m told, close to $10 million to back Gingrich, who’s kind of struggling right now, and I put up much, much less than that to help Rick Santorum,” he said, referring to casino magnate Sheldon G. Adelson. “So I like to tease that I’m the investor and Sheldon is the casino guy.”

Comments
76 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

The only person dumber than Foster Friess is Rick Santorum.

Posted by Stanley7746 | Report as abusive
 

Why don’t we all self-hire police, self-hire defence, self-hire doctors and hospital? That would be a beautiful society

Posted by waddle | Report as abusive
 

Bill Gates was part of the 99% when he did what he did.

Posted by yrbmegr | Report as abusive
 

People like Friess, having done well, tell themselves that they are, therefore, very smart – smarter that everyone else in fact. They tell themselves they are very important – more important than everyone else. They begin to believe this and they tell themselves more and believe that, too. Of course, this then becomes that everyone else is not important and not very smart.
The well-to-do buy Congressmen and Senators so that they can pass laws that reduce the taxes they pay because, after all, it’s their money, isn’t it. Money made investing in the stock market is building America so it shouldn’t be taxed as much, should it? That’s it! Those people in the factories and schools and offices really don’t contribute much to building America so they should pay more.
This is really a mental condition not much different than they guy who talks to God and then goes and shoots twenty people.

Posted by greenleeb | Report as abusive
 

“Thank you for smoking” – it is absurd that a high profile news engine as Reuters is posting such manupulative lines. And we, the 99% are discussing … Stop discussing.
Get on the road.

Posted by good_thinking | Report as abusive
 

WOW! And, how do the rich not paying taxes differ from pre-revolution France? Where’s Charles Dickens when you need him? Dead, along with the line of reasoning that the rich are somehow self-regulating and self-taxing. Really!

Posted by OFA7 | Report as abusive
 

I have seen intellectual slight of hands before, and I will see them again.

Mr Friess apparently does not realize that this nation pretty much already has a mechanism which allows his “self-taxation” ideal to be achieved. This subject to the constraint that an alternative minimum tax be paid. There is as tax deduction for Charitabe Contributions. Contribute enough, and only the alternative minimum need be paid

Posted by DBLightstone | Report as abusive
 

Quit picking on this rich guy, do you really think for one minute that he has the time to think about how his words and actions affect the little people? He has much more to worry about than that. I say we don’t waste another minute of this guys time or our own arguing if he is right or wrong. The last time I checked we are a democracy, and the rules of our land are you pay taxes; If this guy doesn’t want to pay taxes then thats ok with me, just take your family, your companies, and your money and get the hell out of America; and one more thing… don’t let the door hit you in your ass, because none of us are going to be opening it for you.

Posted by WD7179 | Report as abusive
 

I’d also challenge the idea wealthy people own the money they earn. What we make is determined by our ability to bend the economic system to our benefit. Most of us have little power. Some of us, like Mr. Friess, wind up with lots of opportunities to pull more money their way. The head of Disney making $50 million last year only means he is able to bend the system to achieve that result, not that he is worth that money, or works enough to warrant being paid that amount.

As a society, we have a right and obligation to decide how much bending is too much. The wealthy telling us they earned and own their money is nothing more than asking us to put aside our natural interests. Our obligation, wealthy included, is to make sure all work generates enough income to provide a minimally decent life. And that includes setting limits on excessive wealth.

And looking at Friess’ Wikipedia bio, it appears he is not stupid. Merely sheltered from the realities of life. He has had the luxury of assuming everyone is like him without being slapped down by reality.

Posted by FredFlintstone | Report as abusive
 

So instead of paying for our nation’s defense, roads, etc – he thinks he should be able to pay for his entertainment and we’ll call it even? He is not that stupid, he just hopes we are. Unfortunately, a lot of us are and you will hear his argument repeated by the right wing propaganda machine.

Posted by BakoD | Report as abusive
 

Why don’t we all just self-tax, that’ll work great!

Posted by Woltmann | Report as abusive
 

My goodness – what a concept: the rich will “self-tax” by donating money to worthy causes. Of course they get to decide what’s worthy, and they get to deduct the contribution (so they’re not being taxed on it). Of course, if a city decides it needs a hospital or a school, and the “self-taxing” millionaire wants a museum or a stadium, I guess the sick people and kids are just kind of SOL. Another example of the good Christian Republican attitude of “I’ve got mine and I don’t care at all about anyone else”. They love the country, they just don’t like the people in it.

Posted by davec.0121 | Report as abusive
 

The whole point, Ms. Freeland, that you are making
is that you are trying to dilute Santorum with what
this dude is saying.
You don’t like Santorum ’cause Santorum isn’t a liberal pusher of abortifacients.
You, Ms. Freeland, want the HHS/Obama mandate to become
the new gospel, that of dealing with unemployment by
killing off the poor (for FREE!)before they
are even born!
THIS you say is liberty! This is freedom of choice
for women! This is health care at its finest!

So, when you see a rise of a good, God-fearing candidate
you want to smash him and turn him to be wildly
weird, sticking every gum flapping Tom-Dick-and-Harry out there
onto Santorum’s back…..so that people will think
that Santorum is such.

This quoted gent is more like YOU than like Santorum.
Maybe you should change your blog’s title.

Posted by limapie | Report as abusive
 

Foster Friess perfectly demonstrates the demented, deranged and psychotic thinking of the super rich.

Posted by GMavros | Report as abusive
 

Frankly, i think this man just proves that being intelligent is not a prerequisite for being wealth. Maybe we should bring back slavery since we poor folk,middle class folk are getting such a free ride off the backs of the “poor” wealthy men of this country, and only by making us all slaves of the wealthy will we pay or fair share. Of course, he does not realize that the only way for him to be wealthy is by having consumers that buy his products or services.

His whole notion of self-taxation is laughable if it was not so uncommon among the right wing wealthy. He is very confused about charity and taxes, and i suspect that he is confused on purpose. Giving to charity is not a self-tax, it is a gift from him for his own desires even if it is irrelevant, or a fraudulent charity, it does not matter. When Bill Gates gives to his charity, it is very commendable but it’s his choice, and it just happens that it is also a very useful one, but he could just as well give it to “Save the moon from Humans Foundation” if he so wished.

Posted by ofilha | Report as abusive
 

The problem is that how do the rich get rich? Either they were born with wealth or they started some place where they were not so wealthy. His whole rational just seems of a not so bright man.

Posted by ofilha | Report as abusive
 

Mr Friess just demonstrates his ignorance of what value he enjoys form the common provision of public goods. A symphony or museum doesn’t put out fires, pave roads, protect the water supply or, facilitate innovation or provide a host of other taken for granted services.

Posted by barmington | Report as abusive
 

They’ve already practically stopped paying taxes.
All that’s left is for their hired hacks in government to make it permanent official policy.
As Leona Helmsley once put it: “Only the little people pay taxes.”

Under Republican control, American plutocrats would reduce the social safety net to levels not seen since Victorian England.

And the role of government to something like what you have in Somalia.
Which is in stark contrast to what Lincoln expressed that role to be: “…to elevate the condition of men, to lift artificial burdens from all shoulders and to give everyone an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.”

It’s a bitter pill for the less-fortunate majority to swallow.
But these obscene money-bags hope that superstition (a.k.a. religion) will fill the void the way it does in all desperately poor ignorant countries.

No wonder this guy is such a staunch supporter of Ayatollah Santorum.

Posted by jrpardinas | Report as abusive
 

People say the rich should be taxed at the same percentage as average citizens. People poo poo the idea that even at lower rates the rich pay out a lot more dollars than average citizens. Yet when you apply the same idiology to a flat tax people say it punishes the poor. In today’s world being even-Steven simply isn’t possible so we’ll go roundy-round on this issue until it it is completely wrung of its political juices then it’ll be forgotten.

Posted by GLK | Report as abusive
 

This Foster Friess interview, if publicized well, is potent enough of a wake up call for all, regardless of their political affiliation.

“Supper PACS”, another republican Supreme Court abortion, have put in the final nail on America’s coffin.

Posted by GMavros | Report as abusive
 

Those slaves in antebellum south paid no taxes either. I guess they were a bunch of freeloaders too. The Mastahs created so many jobs they had to ship in more people from Africa! If Obama only left the top alone they could recreate the economic dynamo that was 19th century Alabama.

Posted by anarcurt | Report as abusive
 

Hey, why don’t we all invite and PAY this guy to speak his mind across America. He is our only hope, really.

Posted by GMavros | Report as abusive
 

Flat tax or sales tax. Everybody pays the same percent. everyone is punished the same. Since everyone pays the same rate no voters will want to see the rate go up. It is the only fair way to go and it will stop a lot of the political divisiveness used to get the nobles re-elected.

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive
 

Standard Reuters hit job fare. Beating up on the Republicans while always and constantly giving a free pass to Obama.

A fine history of this from Rev Wright onwards. Bet $10,000 Freeland is a tub thumping Dem.

Posted by eleno | Report as abusive
 

You can really tell the economy has hit the skids and those with clout are blaming those without it and claiming that it is their entire fault for not being wealthy.

They will use the abuses of the system – the same abuses that frequently get the top its clout – as proof they deserved to be in the upper positions all along.

It’s the old phenomenon – a slave holder in the old south had to believe he was owning a sub-human being and could not possibly handle the “difficult work” of being a southern plantation owner and would use parts of the Bible that gave him the most comfort. Very Old Testament passages are usually the best. Abraham and Hagar are down right kinky. I’ll just bet that was a handy Bible verse when he was out getting it on with the help. Bondswomen can be a comfort.

He would claim he was Christian but avoid too many passages that talked about freedom to slaves unless, of course, it was “in the spiritual sense” only. The slave could have as much religion about the after life as he liked (and was forced to accept) but the present conditions were “white only”. It was so much less disruptive for the upper ranks to read it that way and the white people couldn’t stand the heat of the southern climate anyway.

And the Nazi regime used the same attitude for those they exterminated. It is so much easier to kill something non-human. But it’s a lot harder to live in the reality of gated communities, hyper expensive condominium towers, and prep schools if the inhabitants think they aren’t really fortified compounds and they may actually be despised.

The predator must believe in his inherent superiority to his prey. Otherwise he is just a common murderer and a thief. It also justifies in his mind the reduction of care, quality and cost for the rest of the system that he absolutely insists he controls at any cost, preferably at the expense and effort of the inmates of that system. For sure the predator has a good head for business even when so many of his kin don’t always have “a good head for business”. The predator always makes sure he lives elsewhere where “at last he can live as a human being”.

Thorstein Veblen said about the same thing but with more politeness. He also said the predatory class had enormous skills at chicanery. Obviously.

BTW – why do you wait so long to post comments? No other writer tries to control the comment discussion quite as much as you do Ms. Freeland. That is very like “finishing school” behavior. I have a long running argument with my father about the effects of finishing school. I prefer solid wood of almost any grade in as much “finishes” can be used to disguise compressed saw dust.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive
 

The least offensive word for this “Self-Tax” concept is “Crap”. This guy is siting examples of all charities and welfare works done by the rich and big companies. where most of these acts are “Planned Promotional acts” like an sponsorship and some are done out of true cause as CSR which is a paying back a little to the society you have taken much much more from. And where as Taxation is concerned, its a duty of all citizen to The Nation to create a booty from which nation is operated.The way this guy is challenging the taxation today, tomorrow he might challenge the presence of the Government and come up with concept of “Self-Government”.I would rate this guy and his ideas as “A Threat to The Future of his Nation.”

Posted by Saurabh_Kumar | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
  •