What the 99% owes the 1%

Harry Binswanger, an Ayn Rand devotee, says millionaires should be exempt from taxes and be rewarded with public displays of gratitude.

By Jason Notte Sep 24, 2013 12:15PM
Image: Wealthy couple (© Digital Vision/Getty Images)Harry Binswanger never went through an Ayn Rand revival: He knew her the first time around.

A longtime Rand associate, Binswanger has dedicated his entire career to advancing her message of Objectivism and the idea that laissez-faire capitalism is the best means of achieving one of that philosophy's key tenets: Look out for your own happiness and self-interest and don't succumb to the collectivist succubi who would drain you of your special gifts and/or money.

This is the man who steered The Objectivist Forum in the 1980s after Rand died and dedicated so many hours to Objectivism that his collected works look like this.

Thus, when he writes something akin to his latest Forbes column, he's not doing it because he's still buzzing from the last Ron Paul rally.

He's one of the pillars of Objectivism, which means occasional Binswanger quotes such as this from an op-ed titled Give Back? Yes, It's Time For The 99% To Give Back To The 1% are to be expected:

"Imagine the effect on our culture . . . if the moral praise showered on Mother Teresa went to someone like Lloyd Blankfein, who, in guiding Goldman Sachs toward billions in profits, has done infinitely more for mankind."

Yes, that Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs (GS) who told Congress in the wake of the financial collapse that his company didn't create the mortgage default swaps that wrecked the economy, it just created the market for them.

The same guy whose firm bet against the same products Goldman was selling to investors but saw no legal or moral impetus to tell those customers it was doing so.

The same Blankfein whose company set the euro teetering on the brink of collapse by helping Greece hide its crushing debt. The one whom former colleague Greg Smith saw fit to incinerate in an op-ed in The New York Times last year in a moment of moral clarity.

From Binswanger's perspective, it's quite obvious why Blankfein should be held in the same regard as a woman who fed the poor, housed orphans and cared for those with tuberculosis, leprosy and AIDS:

"Since profit is the market value of the product minus the market value of factors used, profit represents the value created."

To this end, Binswanger suggests that Goldman Sachs isn't a "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity." Instead, that applies to those collecting taxes from the folks at Goldman Sachs and using that money for infrastructure and services. He blames the "envy-ridden moral code that damns success, profit, and earning money in voluntary exchange" for that particular drain on personal wealth.

Binswanger proposes that anyone worth $1 million or more be exempt from taxation and publicly thanked and honored for their work, which wasn't at all aided by tax abatements or cheap labor in squalid conditions.

"So to augment the tax-exemption, in an annual public ceremony, the year's top earner should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor."

Unfortunately for Binswanger, as he knows all too well, the founding fathers didn't care much for that line of thinking. Having seen it manifest beneath The Crown, they put together a framework that exists counter to the Objectivist notions that wouldn't exist until nearly two centuries later.

As a rebuke to Binswanger, Business Insider's Jill Klausen let John Adams have the last word about Objectivism's place in an inherently collective nation:

"Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men: Therefore the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity and happiness require it."

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Sep 24, 2013 1:00PM

In the old days the top 1% provided jobs to the masses.Now, companies like GE have

more employees in foreign countries than the US.CEO`S getting $100,000,000 a year

is over the top.Their buyouts for screwing up is also wrong.The shareholders aren't the

checks and balances they should be.

Sep 24, 2013 12:53PM
Harry Binswanger is a loon, plain and simple. Who cares what he thinks??????
Sep 24, 2013 1:37PM
There's  nothing   wrong   with   being   successful , unless   you    step  on  the  necks  of   people   with   less   power  and  means  in   order   to  get   there.
Sep 24, 2013 1:11PM
Sep 24, 2013 12:43PM
The rich should not have to pay any taxes of any kind. That way we can go back to a time of federalism when a few family (Waltons, Koch, Gates) control most of the resources and make sure that all the money stays in the family. The purpose of the progressive tax and inheritance tax is to prevent a few people from controlling everything. While I agree that the tax code needs to be heavily reformed taxes on the rich prevent them from creating a class of lords and serfs.
Sep 24, 2013 12:51PM
In the U.S. it is so easy to make money and become rich.  What is much harder, as I am finding after selling one of my companies, is to not care about wealth and focus on more intrinsic values.  What I have always found absurd is those who love to claim that they got their wealth by their own hard work.  They never mention our countries solid infrastructure that helped them get there whether it be roads, ports, or airport terminals....not to mention education.  Funny that he mentions GS...is this the same GS that took government bailout money to survive?  How would Ms. Rand feel about that?  GS and government (whether it be Bush or Obama) have been in bed together for quite some time...how would Rand feel about that relationship?  My feeling is that Ms. Rand would be utterly disgusted with a company like Goldman Sachs.  Ayn Rand believed in great companies that built great products and services and not cheating, deceiving companies that feed of the government trough.
Sep 24, 2013 12:45PM
The Adams quote bears repeating...

"Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men: Therefore the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity and happiness require it."

When in the course of political current affairs, we detect that our CONgress has sold us out to the 1 percent in the name of 'trickle down', it becomes past time for our citizens to rally around a different philosophy and enact a new course of direction.

Just one example:  All polls indicate the majority want Obamacare, yet a small cadre of die-hard idealists known as the Tea Party have become the 'tail which wags the dog', slavishly denying the will of the majority while defying the laws of reality via demagoguery and deceit.  "

The majority do NOT want Obamacare" they cry.   And yet, they themselves enjoy far superior health plans in the interim, having voted to exclude themselves from anything less than publicly-paid 'Cadillac plans'.  Is there any extent to which they will not go to help themselves to the public treasury on the one hand, while sniveling about how 'broke' the nation is on the other?

As John Adams said, its nearing the inflection point for all to reconsider just how much 'value' this current legislature has for us, and to begin the movement to turn them out one by one until they grasp the major point- that is, does the government exist to nurture and protect the assets of the much-suckled One Percent, or does it exist for a far nobler purpose...to protect US from Them?

Thank you and good day.

Sep 24, 2013 1:09PM

The problem is, government does not work for the good of common man.  They work for the good of themselves and their friends.  Like special exemptions from Obama care for congress, certain large corporations, and unions....the rest of us fools can pick up the tab.


Government should be put on a large diet, like in the neighborhood of 60% less revenue.  In this way, there is less power to corrupt.  Private enterprise can pick up slack where needed in an inherently more efficient way.


When government takes such a large portion of your earnings, you have in effect become a slave.  When you add up all they take from you directly in taxes, plus add more taxes you pay indirectly so corporations can pay their taxes, and also take into account the effect government regulations have on pushing prices higher, I bet an average earner is lucky to keep 30% of they produce.  My number may not be entirely correct but in the ballpark...

Sep 24, 2013 12:49PM
Ayn Rand wrote her book more than 50 years ago. The idea that the American industrialism and free enterprise was going to be assaulted by a conspiracy of criminal low life public employees followed by a mob who votes because of what the get from government was strange in a country that back on those days, had only 2% of unemployment, controlled 35% of the international commerce and high quality leaders like Einsenhower (when he was president). We don't have an economic or financial crisis now, what we have it's a terrible human resources crisis. Those entrepreneurs has been replaced by outsourcers, pirate banks, psychopaths money managers, no rules, monopolies that control everything, from the news that you ear, to the money that you have in the bank. Ayn Rand was really wrong. Those low life politicians of her book has not been created by the hopeless mob, but for this new generation of psycho money managers and outsources that control the news, the politics, the music industry, the food you eat and virtually you life, death and all what you own. 
Sep 24, 2013 12:44PM

Are we sure this Binswanger piece wasn't actually supposed to be published in "The Onion"?

Sep 24, 2013 1:17PM

OK Harry, I’m sold. Please send me Lloyd Blankfein’s home address, phone number, and email, so that I can personally, ahh, thank him in my own way for all he has done to (I mean for) me.   

Sep 24, 2013 12:48PM
The headline hits the nail right on the head, concerning how many of the 1%ers think...that we should be grateful for their wealth...as they mistakenly take capitalism as a form of government. 

It isn't. It is a form of commerce, to be regulated by our public controlled government.Some of them even think only the rich deserve to be called Americans, while denigning any responsibility to the greater good.
Sep 24, 2013 12:58PM
This is not Objectivism. Harry Binswanger is a tool. His "long-time" association with Ayn Rand is very questionable and she absolutely would be condemning Goldman Sachs up, down and sideways. Harry Binswanger is an old fool who should have retired a long time ago. 
Sep 24, 2013 1:24PM

"an Ayn Rand devotee"


"millionaires should be exempt from taxes... rewarded with public displays of gratitude"


So... a sociopath, then. Alrighty.


Don't get me wrong. As a student of philosophy in general, Ayn Rand and Objectivism has some interesting points. But taken as a whole, and especially when applied in a social Darwinism context, it is a recipe for self-justified megalomania.

Sep 24, 2013 1:22PM
Binswanger's profit premise has a major flaw. Profit does not necessarily represent value created. Profit represents value created only to the organization that reaps the profit. Sometimes that profit represents a loss to the overall economy.
Sep 24, 2013 1:18PM
I cant believe that this article was ever taken serious enough to actually be commenting on it. But here it goes. I DONT THINK SO
Sep 24, 2013 1:16PM
we need more think tanks to sway public opinion to not using common sense.  we are becoming less human every day.  screw your fellow beings on the street. seems like a nice way to create hell on earth.  humanity, what's that?

The Federal Gov't should be reduced to making treaties, protecting commerce and having a standing army to defend the USA from attacks as was designed in the beginning.   The rest should be left to the States to handle as was designed in the Bill of Rights.


Everyone should be able to keep their earnings except a tax for each state helping the Federal Standing Army, commerce and making treaties.   All Senators and Representatives should be limited to a 6 year term paid for by their own states.


The Federal Gov't is too big and should be cut down to where it only does what it was designed to do (above).

Sep 24, 2013 1:18PM
Sep 24, 2013 1:04PM
According to Ayn Rand, the same people would end up with all the money if we divided equally. That is such B.S.. The Walton family for one would be operating a 5&10 somewhere paying their employees minimum wage. Gates would be looking for someone to steal their ideas and all bankers, politicians and lawyers would be in Gitmo or shot dead.
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