Health Care Reform and the Robin Hood Syndrome

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In the current push for legislative health care reform one can discern the influence of the Robin Hood Syndrome, which consists in “stealing from the rich to give to the poor.” Thus, Sherwood Forest’s fabled robber presumably was the first to have practiced what now is euphemistically called “income redistribution.”

The New “Rich:” Healthy Taxpayers

Indeed, the principle underlying the various bills before Congress is to make it obligatory for everyone to buy health insurance so that, with the funds forced from those who do not need health care, it can be provided to those who do. In more direct terms, to take from the “rich” to give to the “poor;” the “rich” being, for the purposes of these bills, any taxpayer, regardless of his income level, who does not need health care. In this way, both a healthy young person and one who is sick will have to buy health insurance, with the latter’s treatment being paid for, in part, by premiums paid up by the former. 1

This “income redistribution,” even if done with the best of intentions, is a replay of sorts of the fictional exploits of Robin Hood, Little John and the non-too-gentle Friar Tuck in the forests of Nottinghamshire. It would be a replay “of sorts,” because if the proposed legislation is enacted, instead of the “Merry Men” showing up in their forest green with longbow, sword, or heavy cudgel, they will be dressing up this time as Revenue agents, wielding the “sheriff’s” full power to collect the levied taxes.

A True Tax

There is no two ways about it: to oblige someone to buy something he does not want (in this case, health insurance) under penalty of substantial fines, which, if left unpaid, can lead to even greater fines, arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment, is purely and simply a tax.

And there is no doubt that non-buyers will have to pay accounts to the IRS, as Carrie Budoff makes clear in her Pulse column in Politico: “Americans who fail to pay the penalty for not buying insurance would face legal action from the Internal Revenue Service, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.” 2 For his part, Thomas Barthold, the committee’s chief of staff, answering questions from Senator John Ensign (R-Nev.), “said the IRS would ‘take you to court and undertake normal collection proceedings.’” 3

The Purpose of Taxes is Not Income Redistribution

Contrary to what today’s Robin Hood imitators appear to believe, the purpose of taxation is not “stealing from the rich to give to the poor,” a means to “redistribute” income. Taxation should not become punishment for those who have taken greater advantage of their productive talents, capacity to work, or thrift; nor should it be an instrument to promote social egalitarianism (the socialists’ dream).

The proper purpose of taxes is to fund the State’s specific responsibilities, which are to maintain peace and social harmony and to ensure the nation’s defense, thus promoting the common good and general prosperity. As Pope Pius XII teaches: “There can be no doubt concerning the duty of each citizen to bear a part of the public expense. But the State on its part, insofar as it is charged with protecting and promoting the common good of its citizens, is under an obligation to assess upon them only necessary levies, which are, furthermore, proportionate to their means.” 4

The Danger of not Seeing Reality

A characteristic of socialists, “social-sentimentals” and all utopians is to deal with social, political and economic issues as if they took place in a realm of pure abstraction (if not fantasy) rather than in the real world.

They sustain nonchalantly (and in all naiveté) that the “State” (or “government”) must provide health care insurance to all citizens and even to non-citizens who have entered the country and remain here illegally. However, they are unconcerned with how the “State” is to fund such a gargantuan project. They seem to consider “the State” as an omnipotent deity, drawing on inexhaustible resources, and thus capable of solving all the problems of the citizenry…

However, while the State may be rich, taxes are, directly or indirectly, its main source of income, and these only come from one place: taxpayers’ wallets.

Therefore, to the degree that State entitlements increase, so does the tax burden; which means that taxpayers work increasingly to finance government projects and less and less for their own interest and utility. And this makes for an ever higher cost of living, a retraction of the economy, and other ills.

Leaving the Realm of Utopia

Experts and professionals may help our legislators find technical solutions for problems, evidently always respecting the norms of morals and the interests of the common good. But for real solutions to arise one must leave the realm of utopia and sentimentality bordering on the irrational and consider reality as it is, rather then as it could be dreamed up.

It is a risky proposition to adopt measures based on failed ideological tenets rather than from a real commitment to finding true solutions.

The U.S. health care problem is way too complex to be solved with the simplistic methods of Robin Hood and his band of “Merry Men” of Sherwood Forest…


  1. Cf. Michael O. Leavitt, A. Hubbard, and Keith Hennessey, “Health ‘Reform’ is Income Redistribution,” The Wall Street Journal (online) Sept. 27, 2009, 7:02 P.M. ET,
  2. Carrie Budoff, Pulse, “Flout the mandate penalty? Face the IRS,” in Politico, Sept. 24, 2009,
  3. Quoted by Budoff, art. cit.
  4. Pius XII, Speech of Oct. 4, 1956, in “Taxation and Moral Obligation,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Vol. XIII, p. 950.

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