Everyone knows Robin Hood. He’s the famous outlaw from England, who, “Stole from the rich to give to the poor.” That particular saying has become so iconic that it has even transformed into a political statement. Truly Robin Hood stands for the poor, the weak, and the downtrodden. Surely he is the hero that stands in their defense, and surely those who take from the rich to give to the poor will be heroes just the same.
But I can’t say I buy it. Unfortunately, the whole Robin Hood story has been turned upside down. Robin Hood never robbed the rich in the way we think about it today. The 1% in America is mostly comprised of entrepreneurs and business men who had to climb a ladder to success. With a few exceptions, they gained wealth through voluntary exchange and the free market. The rich in thirteenth century England were quite different from today. In fact, capitalism did not exist, and the bourgeoisie that would generate its emergence would not arise for several centuries.
In that time, King John, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and other officials held the majority of the wealth. Those men were the antagonists, and rightfully so. King John raised taxes on his people to the point where subsistence was no longer possible. The Sheriff of Nottingham exploited his position, and as corrupt law official he extorted English citizens for any left over money. What is my point? Well, these men worked for the government. They did not earn their money, but stole it. Robin Hood didn’t steal from the rich to give to the poor; he stole from a corrupt government to give to the overtaxed.
It amazes me that this subtlety has gone unnoticed for so long. Robin Hood should be a symbol of freedom against oppression and an end to overbearing taxation, not a representation of expansive wealth redistribution. Every time he is referenced to make a point about the need to tax the rich to pay for entitlement programs, his legacy is done a disservice. Robin Hood would not steal from today’s rich to give to today’s poor; he would confront the government over their policies of massive taxes and absurdly wasteful overspending. He is not the hero you might expect, but it is time we learn what he truly stood for.