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Beyond Flag Waving

Rebooting Our Definition of “Patriotism”

by DAVID MACARAY

Which is more “patriotic”—to loyally refrain from criticizing your government’s foreign policies, no matter how brutal or peremptory they may be (including those that result in quasi-legal, immoral military adventurism that kills thousands of innocent civilians), or to loyally pony up when your government asks you to make a relatively minor economic sacrifice?

Two specific examples. Who were the more “patriotic” citizens—those anti-war protesters, both young and old, who marched in the streets during the tumultuous Vietnam era of the 1960s and 1970s, or those mega-wealthy citizens of 2012 who have renounced their U.S. citizenship and re-located to foreign countries in order to avoid paying higher taxes? Call me a starry-eyed idealist, but I like to think it’s the former.

On June 25, the New York Post reported that twice as many ultra-rich Americans as in the previous year are expected to renounce their U.S. citizenship in order to avoid higher taxes. Granted, the New York Post doesn’t have the institutional whiskers of, say, the New York Times, but the Post does provide the requisite statistics and attribution to make its story credible.

The Post reported that, in 2012, approximately 8,000 Americans are projected to renounce their U.S. citizenship in order to seek refuge in more tax-friendly countries (Costa Rica, Singapore, Cayman Islands, Antigua, et al). They compare this figure to the 3,805 Americans who did so in 2011.

The article quotes Jim Duggan, a lawyer at the law firm of Duggan Bertsch: “High net-worth individuals are making decisions that having a U.S. passport just isn’t worth the cost anymore,” he said. “They’re able to do what they do from any place in the world, and they’re choosing to do it from places with much lower tax rates.” He fails to mention that federal income tax rates are lower than they’ve been in several decades.

So, whether these fat cats live in stately mansions within gated communities in the U.S., or in stately mansions within gated communities in Costa Rica, it’s not going to make any difference to them because they don’t “belong” to either community and never will belong. In truth, the very concept of belonging to a “community” (in the sense that most of us regard that term) is meaningless to them.

Duggan’s observation that wealthy people can now “do what they do from any place in the world” is actually quite chilling. Drones can kill people anywhere, satellites can spy on people anywhere, computer viruses can be sent from anywhere, and vast fortunes can be made from anywhere. Not to be morbid, but it’s worth noting that those philosophers who predicted that “abstraction” would eventually result in the disintegration of our here-and-now world, and lead to widespread alienation, may have been right.

When I mentioned this story to a Republican friend of mine, and went on a prolonged rant about the alarming greed and selfishness of these unpatriotic bastards, he instantly seized upon what he believed to be a brilliant counter-argument. He smugly asked if my scorn was reserved only for “very successful Americans” (his words) or if I were also willing to label “unpatriotic” those Mexicans who fled their home country to seek economic gain in the U.S.

Weak argument. People escaping grinding poverty by crossing national borders is one thing, but people who, literally, have more money than they know what to do with—who already have their yachts and cars and art and luxury homes, but who would rather relinquish their national identity than share a small fraction more of their wealth with their own government—is a whole other deal. Good riddance to them.

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net