Friday, May 18, 2012

             Patriotism and Capitalism

Eduardo Savarin, native of Brazil, attended Harvard University where, as luck would have it, Mark Zuckerberg was his roommate. In this way he got to be involved in the gravy train that is Facebook. When Facebook goes public, the Brazilian stands to make more than a billion dollars from his 4% share of that company.

Savarin was a US citizen until recently and would owe Uncle Sam a good chunk of taxes on those billions. So  he decided to renounce his US citizenship and save himself a tidy amount of cash. This action has provoked enormous outrage. Patriots – including surprisingly The Nation magazine – have rebuked him for lacking patriotic spirit, for being ungrateful for all of the benefits he gained from being a US citizen.
But what did Savarin do that every other capitalist does not also do? It is well known that a number of the largest US corporations do not pay any income tax. They make use of “loopholes” that their lobbyists put in the tax laws in the first place. They certainly make use of any advantage they can get from being a corporation in the United States. But they also are not hampered by feelings of gratitude or patriotism when it comes to making more money.

These corporations do not hesitate to move jobs from the US to Asia. They gladly move  work from the 50 states to a maquiladora in  northern Mexico. Eighty Years ago both General Motors and Ford Motor Company built or bought  auto factories in Germany in order to build trucks and tanks for the German Army that Hitler was rebuilding. Neither General Motors nor Ford hesitated to build military equipment for the US and for Germany.

The story reveals a profound confusion in the minds of most Americans. They think that being a patriot and being a good capitalist go hand in hand. But one has to be really blind to believe that. Being a patriot means that you are willing to make sacrifices for the sake of your country. Being a capitalist means that you are willing to make sacrifices only if you stand to make money by doing so. If you stand to make a good deal of money by not paying taxes to the country that provide security for you, that provides a financial system for you to profit from, that passes special laws that increase your profit, you will not pay those taxes even though that is clearly being ungrateful and, in fact, unpatriotic. If you can save a good deal of money by renouncing your US citizenship, you will, as a good capitalist, not hesitate to do so. If you can make money producing weapons for a potential enemy of your country you will of course do that. Can you imagine passing up a good opportunity for making a profit?

The lesson is important, especially for all the conservative politicians who believe that capitalism is next to Americanism and that a good patriotic American must be an ardent supporter of capitalism. But it now turns out that the opposite is true:  being a good capitalist may well prevent you from being a good citizen.

Karl Marx said “the working man has no country.” But he was mistaken about that. It is the capitalists that have no country.