"For Love of Neighbor" is a new documentary film offering a hopeful vision for Christian engagement in politics. Click here to learn more.

Was Robin Hood a Just Character?

Recently President Obama said that Mitt Romney’s tax plan is “like Robin Hood in reverse—it’s Romney-hood.” Robin Hood’s motto is to steal from the rich to give to the poor. Let’s think about this analytically and see if Obama’s statement is accurate. There are multiple ways we could interpret “Robin Hood in reverse.” The most feasible way to interpret what Obama means here is something like, “Steal from the poor to give to the rich.” Is this what Romney’s tax plan of a $5 trillion tax cut calls for? A possible (perhaps likely) read of Obama’s statement here could be something like, “Poor people have a right to have their basic needs met. People who have more than enough to take care of the poor people have an obligation to take care of the poor people. Therefore, poor people have a rightful claim upon the wealth of well-off people and Romney’s plan takes away those rightful claims.” Even if one grants this view of rights (which I would object to), it doesn’t follow that Romney would be stealing. Romney may give a $5 trillion tax cut, but he could make up the revenue in other ways, cut areas of government spending where the goods to which the poor have claims upon are not affected, or some combination of both. But really, let’s consider two of the assumptions President Obama has here. First, he assumes that it is the duty of the federal government, not merely the states, to provide for people’s needs. Yet why should we assume the federal government’s duty is to do this? Some people might think, “Because it’s an issue the states can’t handle on their own.” But this response fails to consider that there is only a limited money supply in the world, much less our own country. Any money taken from the rich people in New York to be given to the poor people in Mississippi is money that some poor people in New York won’t be seeing. The money has to come from somewhere, and that money wouldn’t be used in the state it came from (despite every state having people who could use the money). So even if we grant Obama’s view of rights, we’ve failed to see why the federal government should be redistributing wealth and not the states. Second, he assumes that Robin Hood was a just character. Sure, we all like to think that what Robin Hood did was good. The scriptures shed light on the morality of stealing to help those in need. In Proverbs we read, “Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy himself when he is hungry, but when he is found, he must repay sevenfold; he must give all the substance of his house.” The wisdom from the Proverbs teaches us that stealing, even if in need, is wrong. In fact, it is so wrong that everything he owns should be taken away from him as punishment. Allow me to hammer the point home: Nobody praises stealing in real life. Nobody actually praises stealing from people. If a person robs a bank, a store or any establishment, nobody says, “Hey, that’s great if the thief is donating the money to charity.” Rather, we all say, “Hey, that’s wrong.” The morality of the stealing isn’t contingent upon what the person does with the money stolen. It is contingent upon who has rightful ownership of the money. If our state laws were to adopt Obama’s Robin Hood vision, we’d have to change the laws on theft to permit people to steal if they’re in need. In the real world, chaos, looting and violence would ensue. Socialism doesn’t work and it isn’t just, in spite of the president’s fictional heroic references.